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Return of the Dragon King

November 30, 2018

Back in the days of AD&D 2nd Edition, the Dark Sun campaign setting was the campaign world that epitomized what we’d now think of as “epic-level gaming.”

Of course, if you knew where to look, you’d find plenty of epic-level material elsewhere. The Player’s Option books had rules for True Dweomers and characters of up to 30th level, after all. Not to mention how the Forgotten Realms had plenty of level 20+ wizards running around, Greyhawk had evil demigods that needed to be fought (Iuz being the most notable, but there were also such notables as Vecna or Kyuss), and if you were playing in Mystara then you might be on the road to becoming a god yourself!

Even so, Dark Sun was perhaps the only campaign that really made its epic-level characters into a fundamental part of the setting, rather than an adjunct. The Sorcerer-Kings set the tone for the game world, serving as background elements and aspects of the setting’s meta-plot. Being able to grow powerful enough to defeat them was the ultimate lure for characters that adventured in Athas, even if very few ever actually succeeded.

For those that wanted to become one, however, a different path was open.

When you don’t need no “Council of Wyrms” to rule.

The Dragon Kings book detailed the mechanics behind the process of fusing arcane magic and psionic powers to become an immortal dragon, as the Sorcerer-Kings were in the process of doing. While stat blocks for the Sorcerer-Kings themselves were printed elsewhere (such as in Beyond the Prism Pentad), this was the book that let you be like them. (Though it still flat-out denied you the ability to grant spells to templars of your own the way they could.)

Spread across ten levels, from 21st to 30th, the power of a dragon was difficult to attain, requiring numerous preparations and special circumstances. Ironically, these were so esoteric that they didn’t translate well into fiction written for the game world; in every single novel that dealt with the Sorcerer-Kings in any great detail, the discussion as to how they were progressing through their transformations disagreed with what was written in Dragon Kings. Fortunately, the powers that they gained as a result were more notable, and were far easier to put “on screen,” as it were. Having awesome natural defenses and potent physical, magical, and psionic powers tended to be the part that grabbed most readers’ and gamers’ attention anyway.

Unfortunately, Athasian dragons didn’t translate well into D&D Third Edition. Not only had the Dark Sun world been shelved (getting only a few brief articles Dragon magazine and one adventure in Dungeon), but the rules for becoming a dragon were unbalanced under the d20 System, even by the rather poor standards of epic-level games. Despite that, while an official version of an Athasian dragon progression would never be seen again (notwithstanding as an epic destiny in the D&D 4th Edition version of Dark Sun), numerous fan-sites would write up their own versions, typically as an epic-level prestige class.

In that vein, today’s post is my take on how such a write-up would look using Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

The Eldritch Dragon (10-level progression)

Available Character Points: 240 (10 character levels) +20 (restrictions) = 260 CPs.

There is, strictly speaking, no need for this “prestige class” to be taken at epic levels. As written, it could be taken virtually anytime, even starting at 1st-level! That said, most characters will want to progress in both a magic progression and a psionic progression – at the very least – before delving too deeply into what’s here.

An eldritch dragon has a restriction against wearing armor of any sort (which their metamorphosed bodies can’t really wear anyway). Their second restriction is actually a variant rule: they take a cumulative -1 penalty per level to saves against pain-based spells and effects (including spells with the [pain] descriptor in Pathfinder), to a maximum of -10. This approximates how the continuing metamorphosis is described as increasingly painful, without the rather unwieldy “animalistic period” described in Dragon Kings, which presented the transforming dragon as being in too much pain to think straight, even as further progression required them to build ziggurats and make bargains with elemental powers.

Defiling Magic

If you want to make a character that practices defiling magic – the practice of draining the local plant life to death to power your spellcasting – in Eclipse, my recommendation is as follows: defiling magic is taken as a variation of the Restrained limitation on a magic progression (Eclipse, p. 11). Rather than restricting what sort of spells you can learn, it restricts your ability to gather the necessary energy to cast your spells.

  • In lush, natural surroundings (such as jungles, prairies, forests, etc.) you have to spend a swift action in order to gather enough power to cast a spell. This does not provoke an attack of opportunity. Gathered power lasts for 1 round before dissipating.
  • In areas of restrained plant life (such as in urban areas, caverns, areas of water where the seafloor is less than 200 meters deep, etc.), you have to spend a move action (which provokes an attack of opportunity) gathering power before you can cast a spell. Gathered power lasts for 1 round before dissipating.
  • In areas of severely restrained plant life (such as deserts, arctic tundras, places of extreme devastation, etc.) you must spend a full-round action gathering enough energy to cast a spell, which provokes an attack of opportunity. Gathered power lasts for 1 round before dissipating.
  • In areas of no plant life whatsoever (such as the areas of water where the seafloor is more than 200 meters deep, outer space, the Elemental Planes, etc.) you cannot cast spells at all, unless you have an alternate power source, such as Body Fuel or Mana.

Defiling magic scars the soil where it’s used, to a radius of 10 feet per spell level (5 feet for 0-level spells), requiring generations before it can be restored to the point where it can support vegetation again (if it ever can). Naturally, those who use defiling magic find that it makes druids, fey, sapient plant creatures, and numerous other entities automatically hostile toward the them (outside of special circumstances, at the GM’s discretion).

This is a variant on the original rules about defiling in order to make the mechanics match the original idea more closely. Defiling magic was always presented as “the easy path to power” in comparison to preserving magic, which was taking enough life energy from the surrounding vegetation that you did no permanent damage to it. In this case, that’s presented as being the CPs that the user saves by having an additional limitation on their magic progression.

If you want to play a character that utilizes preserving magic instead, take this variation of the Restrained limitation, but corrupted for two-thirds benefit (that is, they only receive two-thirds of the CPs they’d otherwise save from applying it to their magic progression; you can’t usually corrupt a limitation this way, but this is an exception). Such characters are still required to spend extra actions to cast spells as outlined above, but do not kill the soil around them and do not automatically earn the hatred of numerous ecologically-minded people and creatures.

Draconic Form (90 CP)

  • 10d4 Hit Dice (0 CP).
  • Int. bonus x 10 skill points (0 CP).
  • +0 Fort, +7 Ref, +5 Will (36 CP).
  • Three levels of Growth, specialized and corrupted for reduced cost/treated as a dragon for all effects related to type (e.g. Favored Foe, arrows of slaying, etc.), worn magic items do not function unless upgraded to “slotless” items (i.e. pay double their market cost if they aren’t slotless already) or are built into the body (e.g. Innate Enchantment, Siddhisyoga, etc.) (48 CP).
  • Extra Limb/tail, specialized for one-half cost/cannot function as prehensile limb (3 CP).
  • Extra Limb/jaws, specialized for one-half cost/does not gain extra limb; only functions as a prerequisite to use a bite attack (3 CP).

A few things here deserve explanation. While the Hit Dice and skill points are part-and-parcel of gaining 10 levels, the save bonuses are here to represent that gaining ten levels should modify your saving throws appropriately. While that should, at epic levels, result in each of your saves going up by +5, the modified totals there represent the adjustments by your size: you’ll gain a +6 to your Fortitude save just from your modified Constitution score, and so there’s no need to purchase anything there. Likewise, Reflex is overbought to compensate for your Dexterity adjustment.

The full list of the changes made on account of your size (presuming that you start off as being Medium) are as follows: Strength +24, Dex -4, Con +12, -4 to attacks/AC, 20-foot space, 15-foot reach (20 with bite), -12 to Hide/Stealth, +9 natural armor bonus, and base 60-foot speed.

While it’s not portrayed as such in the source material, requiring a dragon character to upgrade body slot-based magic items in order to utilize them is thematically consistent. The character has so much raw power flowing through them now that they have no “slots” open on them anymore for typical magic items to interface with. It also helps explain why we don’t really see the Sorcerer-Kings as being draped with magic items the way most d20 characters are.

Engine of Destruction (56 CP)

  • Celerity with the Additional modifier and five instances of Improved, corrupted for increased effect/flight is based on being able to bring wings to bear, 120-foot fly speed (perfect) (33 CP).
  • Martial Arts for 2d10 damage, specialized for one-half cost/cannot utilized manufactured weapons (10 CP).
  • Persistent metamagic theorem, specialized for one-half cost and corrupted for increased effect/only to use the Sacrifice option on a single 9th-level spell slot, requires waiting 1d4 rounds between uses. May use 6th-level spell sand blast, which causes 1d10 points of damage per caster level (25d10 maximum), Reflex save for half (DC 10 + ½ Hit Dice + Con modifier), despite it being of instantaneous duration (3 CP).
  • +5 BAB, specialized for one-half cost/only for use with natural weapons, touch attacks, or ranged touch attacks, corrupted for two-thirds cost/does not contribute to iterative attacks (10 CP).

Note that their natural attacks causing 2d10 points of damage goes for their bite, tail, and two claw attacks. Moreover, this is before their size modifier is taken into account. While it’s not exactly clear how to bump up 2d10 damage dice even further, I’d recommend adding another d10 per size category, for a total of 5d10! This should help drive home just how dangerous a foe eldritch dragons are, even before they start utilizing their magical or psionic abilities!

The use of the Persistent metamagic theorem gives us the eldritch dragon’s signature breath weapon: a cone of super-heated sand. The cone is 70 feet long, and the damage is considered to be half fire damage, half slashing damage (representing abrasion). The slashing portion is subject to damage reduction, but is treated as a magic weapon .

Living Fortification (48 CP)

  • Augmented Bonus with the Improved and Advanced modifiers/add Strength modifier to Armor Class as natural armor (18 CP).
  • Defender/dodge bonus, specialized for double effect/may not be used while wearing armor (6 CP).
  • Damage Reduction 5, specialized for double effect/only applies against physical damage, corrupted for increased effect/does not apply against magic weapons (12 CP).
  • Improved Spell Resistance (12 CP).

In the Dragon Kings book, a 30th-level dragon has an AC of -10, whereas they start out with (in their natural state) the same AC of 10 as everyone else. That’s an improvement of +20 over ten levels. While their +9 natural armor from being Gargantuan size helps, it’s offset by taking a -4 size penalty to AC. Hence the use of Augmented Bonus and Defender here (the latter set to being a dodge bonus to help bolster their terrible touch AC). Similarly, DR 15/magic seems to be a fairly decent equivalent for “requires +2 or better weapons to hit.” Improved Spell Resistance isn’t quite as good as 80% magic resistance, but the two mechanics are dissimilar enough that it’s an acceptable translation on its own.

Magical Juggernaut (54 CP)

  • +10 caster levels, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for one arcane spellcasting class and one psionic class (40 CP).
  • Mighty Invocation, specialized for double effect and corrupted for two-thirds cost/can only be utilized with specially-prepared foci of ten obsidian orbs, causes 10d6 damage to all living creatures within 100 feet of you (Fort save for half, DC 20 + spellcasting modifier) (8 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/add Strength score to one mental ability score for determining bonus spells/psionic power points (6 CP).

The additional caster levels, and the use of Augmented Bonus, cover a lot of the magical and psionic strength that a fully-transformed dragon has. In Dragon Kings, a dragon gains one psionic science and one psionic devotion, along with the standard PSP gain, per level. They also gain additional spell slots for each spell level they can cast (and four 10th level spell slots by 30th level). In this case, we’re utilizing the increased caster levels in conjunction with their Augmented Bonus to approximate that, since together those increase their bonus spells per level through the roof; it’s taken as a given that the same mental ability score, typically Intelligence, will be the one that affects spellcasting and psionics both. (Though this brings up the question of whether or not it’s possible to gain bonus spells for a 10th level spell slot, like the one gained by Mighty Invocation. If the GM says that they don’t, then the dragon character will need to look into purchasing it a second time, or taking an Immunity, etc. if they want to be able to cast four 10th-level spells per day.)

The more controversial aspect of what’s here, however, is likely to be the damage inflicted by casting those 10th-level slots. At first that’s likely going to look like an advantage, rather than a limitation. The salient point to remember is that it affects ALL living creatures other than the caster, without exception. So your party members, their familiars and animal companions, non-hostile NPCs, summoned creatures, etc. are all going to take the damage every time you cast a high-level spell, unless they get far away from you. (For those of them that want to try and mitigate this, treat the damage as being caused by negative energy.)

Beneficial Side Effects (12 CP)

  • Immunity/aging (common/minor/major) (6 CP).
  • Immunity/having to speak a language to be able to communicate with it (common/minor/major), specialized for one-half cost/does not allow for reading and writing; only speech (3 CP).
  • Imbuement, specialized for one-half cost/only to allow natural weapons to overcome magic-based damage reduction (3 CP).

While their agelessness was a salient feature of dragon characters, their ability to speak any language was an oft-overlooked benefit. Likewise, while it wasn’t expressly spelled out, the AD&D 2nd Edition game rules implied that a dragon hit creatures that needed magical weapons to damage, at least to a certain degree. Hence, they have Imbuement here.

From Dragon to Dragon-King

As originally written, PC dragons could gain the power of the Sorcerer-Kings in every way except for granting spells to templars that worshiped them. Hence, that particular ability has not been written into the above progression. If you want to create a character with that ability, try the following:

  • Dominion with the Scale ability, specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites (6 CP).
  • Sphere of Influence, specialized and corrupted for triple effect/you do not sense events related to your portfolio, you do not pay a reduced cost for using magic related to your portfolio, your ability to grant spells does not increase when you’re on a plane that’s otherwise appropriate for doing so, and you cannot elect to merge with your sphere of influence (6 CP).

This grants you the ability to grant divine spells of up to 9th level, along with up to three domains (traditionally, these will include domains that match the non-neutral portions of your alignment), to those who worship you. Since this costs only 12 CP to achieve, you could conceivably take this as a package deal if you want to say that it was gained due to some circumstance that you weren’t aware of at the time (as it was for the original Sorcerer-Kings). Most characters will want to quickly scrounge up another 6 CP so that they can use Dominion and Scale once they decide to begin formally establishing a seat of power for their burgeoning clergy.

Conclusion

The eldritch dragon progression recreates the Athasian dragon almost perfectly. While a few figures are slightly off from the original, the sum total is so close that it’s functionally the same. The one thing it doesn’t have is the major requirements to progress through each successive level, but that’s probably for the best.

If you do want to make gaining each level of eldritch dragon into a quest in its own right, consider requiring that the dragon character take Occult Ritual (Eclipse, p. 96), and having each level require that a successful ritual be cast. Alternatively, you can say that becoming an eldritch dragon is a form of mythic progression (the ten levels make it perfect for that), requiring various epic deeds to advance. Either way will make the character be a source of adventures unto themselves.

Just remember that sleeping on a big pile of treasure is optional.

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Eclipsing Illusionists

November 21, 2018

It’s rather difficult to be an illusionist under the d20 System.

While there are any number of specific ways in which that difficulty manifests, it really comes down to an issue of “idea versus implementation.” The nature of illusions is that they blur the line between what’s real and what’s not, but the rigid mechanics of the d20 System’s game engine eschew such uncertainty, and in doing so neuter the potency of illusions in the game. Every other problem stems from that.

After all, if an illusionist waves his hands and chants a series of arcane syllables, after which a chimera appears an roars at the party, well, you better hope that everyone fails their Spellcraft checks and thinks that you cast a summon monster spell. Otherwise, one player will make his check and yell, “don’t worry guys! It’s just a persistent image spell! Ignore it!” At which point the game grinds to a halt as everyone wonders if they still have to make a Will save against the illusion and if so whether or not that warning grants them a +4 bonus.

Generally speaking, the problem points with being an illusionist are as follows:

  • Spellcraft checks to identify an illusion spell as it’s being cast.
  • Detect magic and similar effects (such as arcane sight) to identify a magical aura as being of the illusion school.
  • True seeing functions as the ultimate in anti-illusion magic.
  • The aforementioned bit about “If any viewer successfully disbelieves an illusion and communicates this fact to others, each such viewer gains a saving throw with a +4 bonus.”

In order to make illusions more viable, we’ll use Eclipse: The Codex Persona to build a small package deal that handles each of those issues.

The Fantast Package Deal

A fabulist extraordinaire, the fantast knows that any illusion is someone else’s reality. With an infinite number of multiverses each containing numerous planes of infinite proportions, literally everything exists somewhere. Ergo, any illusion, no matter how outlandish, is representative of something somewhere. Unlike with shadow magic, which uses umbral quasi-matter to lend substance to illusions, a fantast allows themselves to be subconsciously inspired by the possibilities of Creation, lending their illusions a verisimilitude beyond what other spellcasters can create.

  • Deceptive Casting: Opportunist/when someone attempts to identify a spell (or power, spell-like ability, etc.) you’re using with Spellcraft, you may make a Bluff check. Corrupted for increased effect/this check may (only) be used to attempt to disguise what spell you’re using, succeeding if your Bluff check exceeds their Spellcraft result (but if their check wouldn’t be high enough to succeed at identifying your spell normally, they don’t identify your false casting either). If you succeed, the spell appears to be a different spell that you know, of your choosing. Specialized for one-half cost/if the components of the spell you’re casting do not match those of the spell you’re trying to disguise it as – including the specifics of any material or focus components – your opponent receives a +4 bonus to overcome your Bluff check (3 CP).
  • Shadows of the Akashic Library: Eldritch (0 CP).
  • Fantastically Realistic: Subtle modifier for Eldritch, specialized and corrupted for reduced cost/only for Illusion spells (2 CP).
  • More Than Meets the Eye: Immunity to divinations (common/minor/great), specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only versus true seeing, allows for an opposed caster level check to be made for the spell to function normally against yourself and effects you create (4 CP).
  • Suspension of Disbelief: Ability Focus +4/Illusion spells and effects, specialized for one-half cost/only applies against saves that would gain a +4 bonus due to being informed that the effect is an illusion (6 CP).
  • Gullible: Incompetent/-5 penalty to Sense Motive checks (-3 CP).

While their ability to disguise what spell they’re casting is a result of personal ability (and can make counterspelling notably difficult), the rest of what a fantast can do is due to their enhanced – if usually subconscious – openness to the possibilities of existence. While subtle in the extreme, it allows them to intuitively “feel” their way around shaping illusions that not only seem so believable (even when their subject is wildly fantastic) that simply being told that they’re an illusion isn’t nearly as convincing as it would be otherwise. Similarly, the sheer pinnacle of plausibility that they achieve is so great that even divinatory effects have a hard time picking up on the falseness of a fantast’s illusions. Ironically, their belief in manifest possibility means that they have a hard time detecting when other people are being less than truthful.

Hopefully, the fantast package deal will make your illusionists a little more fantastic.

D&D Did You Know’s: Third Edition Conversion Exploit

October 7, 2018

Across the spectrum of Dungeons & Dragons, over the course of many iterations and editions, there have only ever been three official conversion books.

To be sure, there have been numerous guidelines, spotlights, and overviews whenever a new version of the game nears release. From magazines to messageboards, the issue of changing things between versions of the game (and other games) is a perennially popular topic. But in terms of actual, official stand-alone products that walk you through the process of changing things from one version of the game to another, I’m only aware of three.

The most recent of these is the 5E conversion guide. It’s something that only really barely qualifies, as it’s a four-page PDF (and, insofar as I know, never had a print version) that deals more in guidelines than in hard-and-fast rules about how to convert your D&D game over to Fifth Edition. Prior to that, there was the v.3.5 Accessory Update Booklet, which did have a print run but was more concerned with – as the name says – updating specific 3.0 products to 3.5 rather than a more general guide to converting characters, items, and other game abilities.

That leaves the D&D Third Edition Conversion Manual as the sole remaining book that could be called an honest-to-goodness conversion guide. I still have my print copy, and looking back now it’s interesting at how it attempted to convert pre-Third Edition characters to what was, at that time, the latest version of the game.

Far more fun, however, is that this allows for an interesting – albeit minor – “exploit” for converted characters.

Exceptionally Unusual Strength

Normally, the highest Strength score you can start with for a Third Edition (3.0) character is 20. That is, start with an 18 (whether by an exceptionally good roll or by splurging on your point-buy), and then play a race with a +2 Strength bonus. Notably, this would mean that you won’t be playing as a human, since in Third Edition they have no racial modifiers. So presuming the DM isn’t letting you play a monstrous race out of the Monster Manual (which, in 3.0, didn’t list things like level adjustments or ability score modifiers), this pretty well limits you to being a half-orc if you stuck with the Core Rules. Otherwise, the highest Strength you could hope to start off with was an 18.

Unless you were bringing over a character from AD&D 1st or 2nd Edition.

Maybe.

You see, older versions of the game had what was called “exceptional Strength,” where – if you were a fighter or fighter subclass (in AD&D 1st Edition), or were a member of the Warrior group (in AD&D 2nd Edition) – and had an 18 Strength, you could roll a d% to further measure just how strong your character was. Someone who rolled a measly 01% would have a +1 to hit and +3 damage, for instance, whereas someone who rolled a 100% would have +3 to hit and +6 to damage!

Of course, there were numerous obstacles to getting an exceptional Strength score. In addition to being restricted to the most overtly-martial classes, you were also limited by race (and, in AD&D 1E, sex). So if you were playing an elven fighter in AD&D 2nd Edition, you were capped at an 18/75 Strength; that is, you couldn’t have an exceptional Strength score of more than 75%, even if you rolled higher. With the way the racial guidelines broke down, if you wanted to get the best Strength possible, you had to play a human (male) fighter of some sort.

So what does all of that have to do with exploiting the Conversion Manual for D&D Third Edition?

The answer is found in the Manual’s guideline for converting abilities scores (pg. 3-4):

Exceptional Score New Strength Score
18/01-18/50 19
18/51-18/75 20
18/76-18/90 21
18/91-18/99 22
18/00 23
19-20 24
21-22 25
22-23 26
24-25 27

Now, leaving aside that a Strength of 22 in the older editions could apparently be a Strength of 25 or 26 in the new one, notice what the exceptional Strength values convert over to. A character with any exceptional Strength at all is going to convert over to a Strength of at least 19. If you had that coveted 18/00 Strength before, you now had a Strength of 23!

Now, that won’t really matter much if you’re converting over a higher-level character, since Third Edition assumes inflated ability scores far more than previous versions of the game ever did. But at 1st level it’s a notable score indeed. A +6 to hit and damage right off the bat is a powerful advantage when you’re trying to survive those early adventures.

Of course, insofar as exploits go, this one is rather hard to take advantage of. Utilizing it essentially requires you to follow the AD&D 1st or 2nd Edition guidelines for generating a character and then converting them over via what’s in this book. So even if you follow the various race and class restrictions for being able to get an exceptional Strength score, you’ll still have to actually roll the score you’re hoping for, as those editions weren’t exactly enamored of point-buy generation for ability scores. But it’s still technically possible, and hey, all the books are official.

So, the next time you’re sitting down for a Third Edition game and want to play a fighter, try making an older-edition character and then converting them to 3E rather than generating them under the Third Edition rules directly.

You just might end up with something exceptional.

A Streetcar Named Sophia

April 2, 2018

One of the defining aspects of older console games was just how difficult they were. While not all of the old games were frustratingly hard to beat, many of them were. Quite a few people I know never beat games like Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Battletoads. Certainly, I never did. But there’s another game that I’d rank up as being one of the most impossible to beat: Blaster Master.

Just the story of a boy and his frog.

Combining “Metroidvania”-style platforming with top-down shooter/exploration gameplay, what made Blaster Master so freakishly difficult wasn’t its enemies, bosses, or the doubling-back required to beat the game. Rather, it was that the game had no save features or password system, requiring you to beat the game – playing it through from start to finish – in a single sitting. For an exploratory game, that made figuring out where you needed to go a very time-consuming task, particularly if you died and ran out of continues without having hand-drawn a map or memorized your progress.

Still, the game drew me back in for countless hours, and not just because I only had a few NES games at the time. The game’s two modes of play game it an added level of enjoyment, and finding the correct area for the first time brought a real sense of accomplishment. Not to mention the opening theme was notably haunting.

Although the game’s story was notably different in the original Japanese release, the American version was simple and to the (ridiculous) point. The protagonist’s frog escapes from its cage and hops into the backyard, where it hits a rather inconveniently-placed radioactive container, mutates, and falls into a hole in the earth. The hero falls down as well, hitting his head, and when he comes to (mercifully without injury) there’s no sign of his now-gigantic frog…but there is a conveniently-unattended tank, complete with a battle-suit inside. Donning it, our hero goes out to rescue his frog from the mutant-filled subterranean landscape (which doesn’t look very subterranean at all, but nevermind that).

It was the 8-bit 80’s; “story” wasn’t really a thing in video games back then.

All these features, and yet no cup holder.

Still, the tank he finds is rather cool. Named “Sophia the 3rd,” it’s got quite a few bells and whistles, though its more advanced features have to be unlocked as you play through the game. Even so, it’s a rather nifty little vehicle, able to jump, swim, drive up walls, and even fly for short periods of time. Given that the top-down areas of the game were typically shorter than the platforming required to reach them, you normally spent most of the game rolling around in Sophia.

Given that you spend most of the game driving the tank, I couldn’t help but get it in my head to write up stats for Sophia the 3rd with Eclipse: The Codex Persona. This way, you can have a sweet ride the next time your character decides to rescue a mutated frog.

Sophia the 3rd, Multi-Terrain Tank

To begin with, we’ll select a brown bear as our base creature. Since it has a CR of 4, that means that it has a base Character Point cost of 64 [the rational being that it’s 32 CP x (CR -2)], specialized for one-half cost/may not use natural melee attacks or senses (i.e. low-light vision or scent), does not have reach, loses all feats except Run. So the base cost is 32 CP, with additional costs as per below.

The above is written under the presumption that a character will want to take Sophia the 3rd as a Companion (Eclipse, p. 27). This is cribbed from Thoth’s article on the subject, and indeed we’re going to be lifting most of what’s there and modifying it as needed here.

Durable Chassis (34 CP)

  • Extreme Horsepower: +8 Strength, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/increases one size category, gaining all of the negative effects (e.g. increased penalty to attacks, AC, size-dependent skills, etc.), but the only positive effect is an increased encumbrance modifier (16 CP).
  • No AI: Int 0 (0 CP).
  • Siliconstruct: Con 0 (0 CP).
  • Reinforced Frame: Advanced Finesse/base additional hit points on Str, not Con (12 CP).
  • Armored Coating: Damage Reduction 3/- (6 CP).

The Extreme Horsepower listing allows some wiggle room for the GM, because the wording deliberately makes it ambiguous whether or not the Sophia the 3rd is actually Huge-size, or is simply reaping the negative effects as if it were. This is because the actual vehicle is quite clearly Large-size, and capable of holding only a single Medium-size creature. On the other hand, in an actual game you might want a vehicle that can carry the whole party, and a Huge-size vehicle can carry up to four Medium-size creatures.

Sweet Ride (24 CP)

  • Life Support: Presence (x5), all specialized/cannot be upgraded, the “vehicle” requires a pilot to move or use its “natural” attacks; it can neither move nor attack on its own. Moreover, it must be repaired, not healed (15 CP).
    • Presence/enclosed crew area: those aboard are protected by the equivalent of a tower shield (a minor variant on the shield spell) against attacks from the outside, although they are not considered to be “holding the shield.”
    • Presence/stable platform: those aboard suffer no penalties for “being mounted.”
    • Presence/safety holds: those aboard have places to hold on, and may more around under normal conditions without risk.
    • Presence/basic comforts: those aboard are shielded from most weather, and can expect to remain reasonably comfortable.
    • Presence/draught of air: those aboard can continue to breathe normally as long as Sophia the 3rd is in an appropriate environment and conditions outside are not too hostile (this will work as long as the outside pressure remains more or less reasonable; if it’s no longer reasonable, than the environment is now “too hostile.” This will work underwater thanks to Adaptation, see below).
  • Onboard Medibay: Healing Touch with +2 Bonus Uses, specialized for increased effect/may only be used on occupant(s), each use restores up to (Hit Dice x Strength modifier: 72) hit points (9 CP).

To be absolutely clear, the “enclosed crew area” Presence means that characters riding inside Sophia the 3rd do not have line of effect to creatures or objects outside of it, and vice versa.

Tricked Out (36 CP)

  • Enhanced Systems: Innate Enchantment (minimum caster level as appropriate; personal-only where appropriate; 14,600 gp value): Specialized for one-half cost/needs a pilot to operate its systems (8 CP).
    • Structural Augmentation: immortal vigor I (+12 + double Str. mod hp; 1,400 gp).
    • Antigravity Pulse: jump (1,400 gp).
    • Gripping Treads: spider climb (personal-only; 8,400 gp).
    • Overdrive: personal haste (2,000 gp).
    • Smart-Locking Doors: hold portal (personal-only; 1,400 gp).
  • Hydraulic Depressurization: Adaptation/aquatic climates (6 CP).
  • Weapon Systems: Shaping, Pulse of the Dragon, and Heart of the Dragon, specialized and corrupted for triple effect/only to use diamond spray, lightning bolt, magic missile, and searing light at will (18 CP).
  • Fully Mechanical: Immunity to dispelling and antimagic (common/minor/minor) (4 CP).

Given that Sophia the 3rd will be an NPC companion, there’s no need to purchase Immunity to the XP cost for having Innate Enchantments. Note also that the Immunity to dispelling and antimagic also protects its Path of the Dragon abilities. The Path of the Dragon abilities are all treated as being caster level 6, and diamond spray and lightning bolt have a save DC of 14 (10 + spell level + Wisdom modifier). Technically, the base creature’s Wisdom is 1 point too low to allow for 3rd-level spells, but since these are specialized and corrupted for triple effect, this is allowable.

Propulsion Boosters (34 CP)

  • Inertial Dampeners: Immunity to the limitations on Jump (very common/minor/trivial). This allows Sophia the 3rd to ignore the running requirement for jumps, may double its result for long jumps and quadruple its result for high jumps (4 CP).
  • Rocket Thrusters: Celerity with an Additional movement mode/flying, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/may only be used for a number of rounds equal to its Hit Dice, requires refueling after each use (6 CP).
  • Nautical Engine: Celerity (x2) with Additional movement mode/swimming (24 CP).

With regard to the fuel needed for the rocket thrusters, my off-hand recommendation is that 1 round’s worth be created via a DC 20 Craft (alchemy) check, taking 1 hour and costing 100 gp. This is fairly easily made even at lower levels. Even if stocked up on, this keeps flight at the tactical, rather than overland, level. (Of course, this is a departure from the game, where fuel is dropped randomly by defeated enemies, but there’s little that can be done there.)

Adding all this up, we have a 32 CP base creature with 128 CP worth of augmentation. That means that if you’re buying Sophia the 3rd as a Companion, you’ll need to purchase two levels of Template at 6 CP each, for a total cost of 18 CP. Not a bad price to travel around in such style!

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 27 (base creature) + 12 (immortal vigor) + 96 (Strength bonus) = 135 hp.
  • Carrying Capacity: 6,384 lbs. (light), 12,792 lbs. (medium), 19,200 lbs. (heavy).
  • Speed: 70 ft., fly 60 ft. (perfect), swim 60 ft., climb 40 ft.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +5 (base) +0 (Con) = +5.
    • Ref: +5 (base) +1 (Dex) = +6.
    • Will: +2 (base) +1 (Wis) = +3.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) +1 (Dex) -2 (size) +5 (natural armor) = 14, touch 8, flat-footed 13.
  • Damage Reduction: 3/–.
  • Resistances: 3 vs. all energy types.
  • Ranged Attacks: +4 (BAB) +1 (Dex) -2 (size) = +3 ranged.
  • Feats: Run.
  • Skills:
    • Climb: 0 (base ranks) +12 (Str) +8 (climb speed bonus) = +20.
    • Fly: 0 (base ranks) +1 (Dex) +8 (fly speed bonus) +8 (perfect maneuverability) -4 (Huge size penalty) = +13 (Pathfinder only).
    • Jump: 0 (base ranks) +12 (Str) +16 (speed bonus) +10 (jump spell) = +38.
    • Swim: 0 (base ranks) +12 (Str) +8 (swim speed bonus) = +20.

Further Development

As a vehicle, Sophia the 3rd isn’t much in the way of an siege machine. Its attacks are comparatively weak, even if they have some nice variety to them and can be used indefinitely. Likewise, its armor is abysmal; its durability comes from its DR and comparatively high hit points, but even those won’t protect it against higher-level threats. Rather, Sophia’s usefulness comes in terms of its ability to take its owner almost anywhere, and to provide a relatively safe environment while doing so. The fact that it can heal a notable amount of damage, and retreat from a bad situation at impressive speeds, certainly helps.

Going forward, buying off several of the corruptions and specializations (particularly with regard to Life Support and the Rocket Thrusters) will be a priority. Some further defenses would be helpful, but buying up the attacks is likely to yield diminishing returns very quickly (though an Overrun or Trample attack to just plow through mobs of low-level foes might be useful). Sensors and communications systems might help to make the tank feel more like an all-purpose mobile base.

Of course, having a pet frog is entirely optional.

Attaining Titanic Power

January 14, 2018

Titans are the new zombies.

That’s my takeaway of the monsters from the eponymous Attack on Titan series. Having recently finished the second season of the anime, I have to admit that I’ve rarely encountered monsters that fall as deeply into the uncanny valley as the titans do. Recognizably human in form but having no cognitive abilities beyond those of animals, the titans do nothing but try to eat any humans they see, wandering aimlessly in search of new prey.

That alone would make them fearsome creatures, but in addition to the great strength their tremendous mass provides, they’re also nearly impossible to kill. Each titan can regenerate from virtually any degree of damage, restoring even lost limbs and organs in a short period of time. Only a strike to a particular area of the body, where the back of the neck meets the shoulders, is able to kill them. Naturally, this is exceptionally difficult to pull off, especially when facing a swarm of titans.

The situation is such that, at the start of the series, humanity has been reduced to a late-Renaissance civilization consisting of a single massive city-state and some satellite villages collectively ensconced behind a series of gargantuan walls. But when the outermost wall is breached, the fate of the human race is suddenly thrown into doubt. That’s when a new hero stepped up to combat the titan menace…on their own terms.

Titan Warrior Template (75 CP/+2 ECL)

Titan versus titan

Because everyone wants to suplex a kaiju.

The titan warrior is an Eclipse-based template that allows an individual to transform themselves into a humanoid of immense proportions. Manifesting bones, muscles, and organs seemingly out of nowhere, their original body remains cocooned within their titan form where the back of the neck meets the shoulders. With immense strength and prodigious vitality, a titan warrior is almost unstoppable by conventional measures.

Titan Transformation (24 CP)

  • Immunity to the inability to use Shapeshift to change into a Giant-type creature (uncommon/major/major) (6 CP).
  • Shapeshift (6 CP) with the Growth (+3 CP), Variants (+3 CP), and Attribute Modifiers (+6 CP) modifiers.

In a Pathfinder game, this Immunity to would be for Shapeshifting into Humanoid-type creatures, but would otherwise retain the same cost (particularly given this template’s specialization; see below).

Godlike Vitality (108 CP)

  • 20d0 Hit Dice (80 CP), specialized for increased effect/only gain hit points from these Hit Dice (i.e. Con bonuses) while in titan form, these count as temporary hit points that are lost first.
  • Immunity to being unable to restore lost temporary hit points (common/major/epic), specialized for half-cost, only for temporary hit points gained from assuming titan form (13 CP).
  • Grant of Aid (6 CP) with the Mighty (+3 CP) and Regenerative/regrow lost limbs (+3 CP) modifiers, corrupted for increased effect/only restores hit points at a rate of 2 per round, regeneration functions at a rate of 1d4 hours.
  • Immunity to aging (uncommon/minor/major) (3 CP).

The series places a great deal of emphasis on striking particular areas of the body in order to quickly cripple or kill enemies, most obviously in the titans having a single point of vulnerability. However, damage dealt to a titan warrior’s titan form doesn’t translate back to their real bodies. Given that the d20 System abstracts damage so heavily, a mass of temporary hit points is probably the best compromise.

The temporary hit points gained in titan form automatically renew themselves with each transformation (though Grant of Aid does not renew in terms of how much it can heal in a day). That’s quite unbalanced, but it’s true to what we see in the series, and the restrictions on how often transformations can be used (see below) helps to keep this somewhat in line.

Engine of Destruction (18 CP)

  • Bonus Attack/bite, specialized for increased effect/only available in titan form, on a confirmed critical hit against a creature at least one size category smaller, a random limb is severed (6 CP).
  • Martial Arts/two increases to damage die, specialized for double effect/only for titan form’s natural weapons and unarmed strikes (6 CP).
  • Double Damage/only versus structures and inanimate objects, specialized double effect/only when in titan form (6 CP).

The Martial Arts increases should get the natural weapons for most Large-size titans to 1d12, and Huge-sized titans to 2d10. Along with their high Strength scores and Double Damage (actually triple damage with their specialization) versus structures and inanimate objects, titan warriors are able to inflict incredible damage to their enemies, to say nothing of the local environment!

Altogether, this comes out to a full 150 CP, which is nearing a +5 ECL modifier. However, the entire template is specialized for one-half cost, bringing it down to 75 CP and well within a +2 ECL modifier, due to the following:

  1. The Hit Dice granted by this template do not count for any factors, outside of the template itself, that consider Hit Dice/level (i.e. they are only counted for the titan warrior template’s Shapeshift and Grant of Aid abilities).
  2. This template’s use of Shapeshift may only be used to emulate a single specific Giant-type creature and nothing else (most PCs will want a storm giant, but since this is a template the choice is the GM’s).
  3. Transforming requires the titan warrior to injure themselves for at least 1 point of damage (this is typically a swift action, and can be done unarmed, but not if the character is pinned, paralyzed, or otherwise sufficiently restrained).
  4. The details of the titan form’s physical appearance are set and cannot be altered.
  5. The titan form cannot speak.
  6. Each transformation can last no more than 1 hour (though multiple uses of Shapeshift can be used to extend a single transformation without changing back).
  7. Once changed back the titan warrior must wait at least 10 minutes before transforming again.
  8. Changing back is automatic if all of the titan form’s temporary hit points are lost (i.e. the character has been cut out of their titan body).
  9. Whether transformed or not the titan warrior cannot utilize any abilities, spells, magic items, etc. that allow for other forms of benign physical transformation.

Paying 25 CP allows this template to be corrupted instead of  specialized, allowing for three of the above restrictions to be bought off. These are often restrictions 5, 6, and 7.

Conclusion

Going with a storm giant, this template will grant the user the following modifiers when transformed: Huge size, +120 temporary hit points (or more, depending on the user’s natural Constitution), Str +28, Dex +4, Con +12, +12 natural armor, +20 ft. speed, 40 ft. swim speed, low-light vision, +8 to Swim checks (may take 10, may use the run action when swimming in a straight line), two slam attacks (base 2d10 damage) and one bite attack (base 2d10 damage).

Other characters with this template might have it be based on different giants (e.g. hill or stone giants), which would represent having a titan form of differing size and power. A hill giant-based titan warrior, for example, would gain: Large size, +80 temporary hit points (or more, depending on the user’s natural Constitution), Str +14, Dex -2, Con +8, +9 natural armor, +10 ft. speed, low-light vision, two slam attacks (base 1d12 damage) and one bite attack (base 1d12 damage). That’s not quite as strong as a storm giant-derived titan, but still considerably strong.

Characters with the titan warrior template bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “go big or go home.”

Eclipsing Tempest Shadow

December 11, 2017

It’s been much too long since I’ve posted an Eclipse character here. Although I wasn’t planning on making another pony-related post, this was the first individual that came to mind when I sat down to stat someone up.

With its official release over two months behind us as of this post, I’ve had plenty of time to think about my reaction to My Little Pony: The Movie. My ultimate takeaway is that, while it wasn’t a bad film, it’s largely defined by its missed opportunities. The movie goes out of its way to present a stand-alone story, one which – while it does explore new areas of the world and introduce some interesting characters – is severely flawed for how many details it overlooks in the course of doing so.

Much has been made of where in the show’s timeline the movie falls, with the favorite interpretation (largely due to its release date) being that it’s between seasons seven and eight. However, that’s purely speculative, as the season seven finale makes no mention of the movie, nor foes the film itself drop any hints as to its chronological placement. Other than the fact that Twilight has wings and refers to herself as the Princess of Friendship, there’s little here to say when its story happens.

That, however, is still enough to give rise to some rather uncomfortable observations. Discord, for example, is notable in his absence, both in terms of his lack of presence and no one ever so much as mentioning his name, even though he could have solved things with a snap of his fingers. With such a gaping plot hole, it’s little wonder that we never see Starlight Glimmer, let alone any of the other more recent allies that Twilight and her friends have made, such as Thorax and the reformed changelings or Princess Ember of the dragons.

But none of these are as egregious as the Mane Six themselves apparently forgetting some of their own abilities. Pinkie’s Pinkie Sense, for example, never goes off even once during their adventure, nor does Fluttershy ever so much as try to use The Stare on their enemies. Even these are somewhat forgivable, if for no other reason than the show is equally guilty of overlooking them at times. But Twilight never teleporting, even when she’s in a cage? That’s not something that I can easily overlook.

This isn’t to say that the movie was all bad, of course. It had some funny moments, a few good songs, and added some world-building. But the single best part was, hooves down, its villain: Tempest Shadow.

Tempest Shadow, level 5 unicorn striker

Tempest Shadow

She’s basically pony Darth Vader.

A unicorn mare whose horn was broken by an ursa minor when she was a filly, Tempest Shadow now serves the nefarious Storm King as his second-in-command. In contrast to her master’s whimsical attitude, Tempest presents a cold and austere personality, beneath which seethes a pit of bitterness about the isolation her disability has caused her. Desperate to have her horn restored, she’ll stop at nothing to be made whole again, even if it means leading an attack on her homeland.

Available Character Points: 144 (level 5 base) + 12 (levels 1 and 3 feats) + 6 (disadvantages) +8 (duties) +5 (restriction) = 175 CP.

Tempest’s disadvantages are History (the story about how she lost her horn, and with it her faith in friendship) and Compulsive (her overriding obsession with having her horn restored). Her duties – which she only assumed as of 2nd level – are her tasks as second-in-command to the Storm King. Her restriction is against using melee weapons other than unarmed strikes.

Ability Scores (28-point buy):

Ability Scores Base Racial Levels In. Ench. Total
Strength 14 -2 +2 enhancement 14 (+2)
Dexterity 16 +2 enhancement 18 (+4)
Constitution 10 +2 enhancement 12 (+1)
Intelligence 13 +1 14 (+2)
Wisdom 10 10 (+0)
Charisma 11 +2 13 (+1)

As a major antagonist in an epic film, Tempest has a large point buy for her ability scores, albeit not quite as much as Princess Celestia.

Unicorn Pony (30 CP/+0 ECL race)

  • Attribute Shift, +2 Charisma/-2 Strength (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment, caster level x spell level 1 x 2,000 gp (7 CP; 6,000 gp)
    • Greater mage hand (2,000 gp).
    • Greater mage hand (2,000 gp).
    • Electrotechnics (2,000 gp).
  • Immunity/stacking limitations when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (common/minor/trivial; only covers level 0 or 1 effects) (2 CP).
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of racial innate enchantments (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP).
  • Immunity/needing to concentrate on spells (common/major/trivial – only for spells of level 0 or 1), specialized for half cost/only applies to innate enchantments (1 CP).
  • Immunity/verbal, somatic, and material components when casting spells (very common/major/minor – only for spells of level 3 or below) (10 CP).
  • Eldritch, a unicorn’s horn glows when using innate enchantments or spellcasting, and a matching glow surrounds the target (0 CP).
  • Skill Focus/Tumble (6 CP).
  • Accursed. Any damage, or other harmful effect, that befalls a unicorn’s horn (e.g. must target their horn specifically, rather than the unicorn overall) causes all innate enchantments and spells cast to immediately end. No more can be used until the effect is healed (-3 CP).

ELECTROTECHNICS

School transmutation; Level bard 1, sorcerer/wizard 1

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S

Range long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)

Area 30 ft. burst

Duration 1d3 rounds; see text

Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

Electrotechnics creates a small orb of electricity that flies to a designated intersection, whereupon it immediately bursts into a sparkling display of electric fireworks. The color and pattern of the fireworks are set while casting, and can form basic images (but not complex arrangements such as maps or words). The images fade after 1 round.

These fireworks are bright enough to cause creatures within 30 feet of them to be blinded for 1d3 rounds on a failed Will save. These creatures must have line of sight to the fireworks to be affected. Spell resistance can prevent this blindness.

Having Tempest’s Skill Focus (i.e. her cutie mark) be related to the Tumble skill was a judgment call. Given that we never actually see her cutie mark in the movie – and even finding out her real name didn’t do much to suggest what her special talent was (the way so many pony names do) – it seemed best to apply it to what we see her do in the movie. Given her incredible athleticism, this seemed like the safest bet.

Basic Abilities (74 CP)

  • Light armor proficiency with the Smooth modifier (6 CP).
  • 5d8 Hit Dice (20 CP).
  • +5 Warcraft (30 CP).
  • Fort +1, Ref +4, Will +1 (18 CP).
  • 0 skill points (0 CP).

As a 5th-level character with a highly combative focus, Tempest is a force beyond what your average pony could possibly hope to face. At the same time, she’s not a match for what the alicorns can do; she overcame them only because of her sudden onslaught with petrifying magic items.

It’s worth noting that the vast majority of Tempest’s resources – her ship, her minions, and most of her magic items – come from the Storm King, rather than being her own. Even Grubber, her sidekick, doesn’t really do anything to assist her (or really much of anything at all, besides make poor attempts at humor), and so doesn’t require that any Character Points be spent on her part. It’s no coincidence that we don’t see her having much of anything, save the clothes on her back, after the Storm King has been defeated. Hence, Tempest won’t have any sort of Leadership, Privilege, or related social abilities.

Aggressive Assault (18 CP)

  • Far Shot, specialized for one-half cost/only for thrown weapons (3 CP).
  • Overwhelm, specialized for increased effect/only for unarmed strikes; drives opponents back an additional 5 feet for every 5 by which the attack roll exceeded their Armor Class (6 CP).
  • Opportunist/Make an attack of opportunity whenever an attacker misses her with a melee attack, specialized for one-half cost/only with unarmed strikes (3 CP).
  • Bonus Attack/may make an extra attack when using unarmed strikes (6 CP).

Although there are plenty of other ponies that outclass her in raw strength or sheer speed, Tempest is by far the most physically combative pony we’ve seen to date.

Untouchable Aegis (33 CP)

  • Improved Defender (dodge bonus), specialized for double effect/only when unencumbered and wearing either light armor or no armor (12 CP).
  • Evasive/overwhelm (3 CP).
  • Evasive/trip (3 CP).
  • Evasive/grapple (3 CP).
  • Acrobatics (6 CP).
  • Fortune/evasion (6 CP).

Tempest’s fighting style relies on quick, acrobatic reactions. She leaps, flips, ducks, and dodges with incredible speed, never taking a hit as she moves in to attack.

Lingering Magic (34 CP)

  • Immunity to her racial disadvantage (very common/minor/trivial), specialized for double effect/only for Occult Talents and Innate Enchantments other than greater mage hand (4 CP).
  • Improved Occult Talent, specialized for increased effect/no 0- or 1st-level spells; grants two 2nd-level spells (12 CP).
  • 3d6 (12) Mana, corrupted for two-thirds cost/no form of natural magic, specialized for one-half cost/may only be used to fuel Occult Talents (6 CP).
  • Elemental Manipulation metamagic theorem with one level of Streamline, specialized for one-half cost/only to convert lethal damage to nonlethal damage (6 CP).
  • Rite of Chi with +2 Bonus Uses, corrupted for two-thirds cost/requires 10 minutes of rest per use (6 CP).

Tempest’s broken horn is shown to be like downed power line, still sparking with a dangerous amount of power. She’s shown to have been able to harness this, firing powerful electrical blasts, although she can’t use other magic such as telekinesis. This serves as a supplement to her martial abilities, and cements her as a force to be reckoned with by those who cross her.

Tempest’s occult talents are for the electrical versions of the spells elemental bolt and elemental burst, found on pages 148-149 of The Practical Enchanter. Using these requires her to spend mana, and she can decide whether to deal lethal or nonlethal damage with each use.

Compensatory Prowess (16 CP)

  • Fast Learner, specialized for double effect/only for skills (6 CP).
  • Immunity to the limitations on Jump (very common/minor/trivial) (4 CP). This allows Tempest to ignore the running requirement for jumps, may double her result for long jumps and quadruple her result for high jumps.
  • Innate Enchantment (6 CP).
    • +2 enhancement bonus to Strength (1,400 gp).
    • +2 enhancement bonus to Dexterity (1,400 gp).
    • +2 enhancement bonus to Constitution (1,400 gp).
    • +10 competence bonus on Jump checks (1,400 gp).

In addition to being exceptionally talented, Tempest has rerouted some of her body’s natural magic so that it enhances her body in a manner somewhat similar to an earth pony.

Equipment

As a 5th-level character who, as a major villain, should have PC-level wealth, Tempest is supposed to have 9,000 gp worth of gear. However, the only gear we see her use are the shield-penetrating orbs that release petrifying gas and her armor. In the case of the orbs, those seem to be materials she has as a result of her relationship with the Storm King, rather than her own gear. That technically goes for her armor too, but given that she’s still wearing it at the end of the movie it seems likely that she’s kept it for herself.

Given that, we’ll focus on her armor here. Since it looks to be a combination of a lighter undergarment and pieces of metal, and isn’t hindering her movements, we’ll say it’s the equivalent of masterwork studded leather (175 gp). We’ll also say that it has a +1 enhancement bonus and the spell resistance (13) magic armor special quality, which collectively are worth 9,000 gp. This approximates an underutilized aspect of the film: that the Storm King’s minions seem to have magic-resistant armor (i.e. Twilight tries to blast one early on, and her attack bounces off of its shield), and even the cage used on Twilight resists her attempting to blast it open…but not the Storm King’s using the Staff of Sacanas (powered with all four alicorns’ magic) to rip it apart.

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 8 (1st level) + 18 (4d8) + 5 (Con bonus) = 31 hp.
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +1 (base) +1 (Con bonus) = +2.
    • Ref: +4 (base) +4 (Dex bonus) = +8.
    • Will: +1 (base) +0 (Wis bonus) = +1.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) +4 (Dex) +4 armor (+1 studded leather) +4 dodge (Defender) +1 untyped (martial art) = 23, touch 19, flat-footed 15.
  • Attacks: +5 (BAB) +4 (Dex) +1 (martial art) -2 (Bonus Attack) = +8/+8 unarmed strike (1d4+2 lethal or nonlethal).
  • Skills: 16 (Fast Learner) + 10 (Int bonus) = 26 skill points.
Skills Ranks Ability Modifier Misc. Modifier Total
Balance 0 +4 Dex +4
Intimidate 3 +1 Cha +4
Jump 2 +2 Str +10 competence +14
Knowledge (local) 2 +2 Int +4
Knowledge (geography) 2 +2 Int +4
Listen 2 +0 Wis +2
Martial Art (swifthoof) 5 +4 Dex +9
Perform (sing) 2 +1 Cha +3
Search 2 +2 Int +4
Spot 2 +0 Wis +2
Survival 2 +0 Wis +2
Swim 0 +2 Str +2
Tumble 2 +4 Dex +3 Skill Focus +9

Tempest’s “class” skills are those listed above (including the two that she has no actual ranks in). In addition to English – or whatever ponies call the language we hear them speaking in the show – she should know two additional languages thanks to her Intelligence bonus. These can be assigned as needed, probably to represent her time in countries she helped the Storm King plunder.

It also makes sense to say that a pony as combative as Tempest has invested some skill points in a martial art. Although the movie never goes into any such details about her – nor do the secondary materials, insofar as I’m aware – we’ll say that it’s something she picked up to abet her combat skills.

Swifthoof (Dex)

This martial art is an offshoot of Stronghoof, the traditional earth pony school of unarmed combat. Unlike its predecessor, Swifthoof focuses on speed rather than strength, emphasizing dodging incoming attacks while building up momentum to deliver powerful hits. It’s too new to have gained any Occult Techniques, though this currently means that it’s open to virtually anypony who can find time to study its principles.

  • Requires: Quadruped body-type.
  • Basic Techniques: Defenses 4, Attack 2, Power 2, Strike, Synergy (Tumble).
  • Advanced/Master Techniques: Combat Reflexes, Instant Stand, Mind Like Moon, Weapon Finesse.
  • Known: Defense 1, Attack 1, Strike, Combat Reflexes, Weapon Finesse.

Further Development

As a consummate light-skirmisher type, Tempest has a number of areas where she can try and improve her abilities. She’d be very well served to increase her movement rate (and AC versus attacks of opportunity), bump up her hit points for when things get rough, and definitely buy some Luck for when she’s faced with a Fort or Will save that she needs to make. Beyond that, some additional damage for her melee attacks would be good, and if she can ever get her horn repaired (and retrains that Immunity that lets her use her magic at all), she’ll want to broaden her range of available magic in case she ends up in a bad position…as her almost being sucked into a tornado helped to showcase.

Still, as she is right now, Tempest is a powerful warrior among the ponies. Hopefully we’ll see what becomes of her now that she’s rediscovered what friendship means.

How Magic Works in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls

October 1, 2017

A few days ago, Thoth posted an updated index of My Little Pony gaming material. Naturally, this reminded me that I’ve had another article on that subject in the works for some time.

Creating an RPG adaptation of a media that wasn’t specifically written with RPGs in mind has a tendency to be difficult at best. Most media is created with a particular narrative structure in mind, and the setting is typically constructed in order to abet that. In RPGs, however, the opposite is usually true: the world – and how it functions – are created first, and the narrative is extrapolated from the adventures that the PCs have.

Still, if the world that’s presented in a given media – be it books, TV shows and/or movies, comics, video games, etc. – showcases the principles that it operates under, as well as various other salient details such as its geography and history, then constructing an RPG around it isn’t usually too tall of an order. (And of course, the scope and mechanics of the RPG system in question play a large role in this as well; rules-light systems, for example, have less that needs to be codified in the first place.) While some inconsistencies may not be avoidable, typically in the form of certain actions seen in the show not being replicable under the RPG rules (these are typically explained as being the province of special individuals, unique circumstances, or some combination thereof), most of what’s there can usually be translated into game mechanics.

That’s been the case so far for the world of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, as seen in the above link. However, the world of its spin-off series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Equestria Girls, is something else again.

The reason for this is due to the Equestria Girls franchise being comparatively thin. Four movies, three TV episode-length specials, and a large number of animated shorts and music videos represent the totality of the series canon (since, as I’ve discussed previously, secondary materials aren’t very reliable). By contrast, its parent series has well over one hundred fifty episodes and a theatrical film. While the forthcoming Equestria Girls Youtube series might add more to what’s here, so far there’s simply a paucity of material to draw upon.

These girls make Harry Potter look like Elminster.

That’s a problem because, like the series it spun off from, Equestria Girls is neither overly concerned nor particularly forthcoming with the underlying details of how its setting works. While a lot of this can be explained as “it’s Earth (mostly)” that doesn’t help with issues like magic. To date, the magic that the protagonists use in the first four movies is different every single time. And that’s just one of the ways that the magic in Equestria Girls is so consistently inconsistent.

Or is it?

Magical Methodologies

Despite how the magic in Equestria Girls seems to be utterly lacking in any coherent principles, it actually operates under certain rules. While never directly articulated, we can see them demonstrated with surprising uniformity across the series so far. These are as follows:

1) There is no native magic. All of the magic that we see across the series comes from Equestria, rather than the basically-Earth dimension that Equestria Girls takes place in. Other than Twilight invoking Clarke’s Third Law when she sees the Internet in the first movie, all that world apparently has are stories and myths, such as Timber Spruce’s (fake) story about Gaia Everfree in the fourth movie. This is important, because it provides a foundation for why some of the other principles listed here work the way they do.

2) Foreign beings with magic can still use it (subject to local conditions). It’s self-evident that the lack of magic in that world is not due to it being some sort of dead-magic zone, since beings from Equestria who possess magic are still able to use it there. However, their ability to use magic is affected by the circumstances imposed on them by that dimension. Unicorns, for example, rely on their horns to cast magic; since Star-Swirl’s mirror portal conveniently changes people who pass through it into dimensionally-appropriate shapes (clothes included!), that means that unicorns that pass through it become human, and so are unable to utilize their horns to cast spells. Likewise, the Sirens could still feed off of negative energy to power their magic, but since the negative energy of magic-less humans had no magical energy itself, their own magic was sharply curtailed.

3) That world, and its people, can only safely handle so much magic… There’s an apparent limit to what the fabric of the Equestria Girls’ dimension can take, with regards to foreign magic. While relatively small amounts of magic can be absorbed and utilized by the native people and objects of that world, too much of it causes a strain that starts to have deleterious effects on the user, or even the fabric of the universe itself!

This, in other words, is why that world’s “Mane Six” will often be seen to “pony up” without any problem; the transformation by itself is largely cosmetic, and on their own only allows them to utilize low-level effects. Rainbow Dash can fly on her own (an example of the personal flight spell; a level 2 spell from The Practical Enchanter), but can’t cast fly on Scootaloo. The “attack” magic they used against the Sirens at the end of Rainbow Rocks likewise didn’t seem to be very powerful at all, causing the Sirens consternation more than actual damage.

Beyond that point, “magic saturation” will start to have serious side-effects. Native characters that use too much magic will not only be physically warped, but will experience some sort of pronounced psychosis (e.g. Gloriosa Daisy, Juniper Montage, and “Midnight Sparkle”), and even native items that try to contain too much magic will start to fail, causing unpredictable side effects as the magic escapes (e.g. what happened with “sci-Twi’s” magic-draining locket during the Friendship Games, or Juniper’s mirror after absorbing the Mane Seven). Fortunately, most of these effects seem to be temporary, but it’s not unimaginable that prolonged use could cause permanent alterations.

To reiterate, this isn’t something that foreign characters in that dimension need to worry about (unless magic saturation was a problem for them in their native dimension), as per rule 2. That’s why, for example, Sunset Shimmer can absorb the same large amounts of siphoned magic from the aforementioned locket and not go crazy, whereas the native Twilight Sparkle lost control of herself.

4) …unless they share the burden. The exception to rule 3, of course, is if native characters cooperatively work to control stronger magic. In that case, the power is spread thin enough that they don’t suffer from any negative side-effects. Hence why the native versions of Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash can help Sunset Shimmer and the Equestrian Twilight Sparkle to create an astral construct far stronger than the ones created by the Sirens, for example. Even if any of them had been able to use that much magic alone (which they don’t seem to possess anyway), doing so would have taken a serious toll on them if they hadn’t shouldered the effort together.

5) Native characters with foreign magic will see it change over time to acclimate to them. This is the “iffiest” rule, but does serve to explain what we see over the course of the series. In the first movie, the girls are simply imbued with magic that they use reflexively, due to the crisis they found themselves in. In the second movie, they’ve found out that they can invoke that power again via music, with Sunset Shimmer trying and failing to figure out why that’s what activates their powers. By the time the Friendship Games roll around, the activation method has changed to them acting in accordance with their (Equestrian counterpart’s) Element of Harmony. Since the girls later use their “ponied up” forms in their music video without undo difficulty, they may have learned how to invoke them at will.

The RPG Connection

So how does this translate into something that you can use in an RPG game? Consider each rule in the following context:

Rules #1 and #2 contextualize what characters are capable of in the setting, at least at their outset. This helps to shape character creation within the scope of an Equestria Girls campaign. So if the GM wants the players to create native characters only, you’re going to need a very good backstory to justify having any sort of magical abilities. If you really want to be from Equestria (or some other mystic realm), then be prepared to potentially lose a lot of your power in this world.

Rules #3 and #4 set a soft limit on the degree to which magic (once it’s acquired) can be used. You want to throw around up to 2nd-level spells? Go for it. For anything higher than that, expect to start taking Charisma damage, leading to a temporary alignment change, and ending with your character at least temporarily becoming an NPC under the GM’s control. Want to use stronger magic without that happening? You better hope that everyone in your party is on board with what you’re trying to do.

Rule #5 is very nice bit of characterization for why rebuilds happen. Since low-level, continuous-use magic – which doesn’t really change once it’s fixed – is going to be a large part of what defines your character, it makes sense that players might want to alter something if they feel like they made a bad decision. And just like that, the foreign magic has “acclimated” to being used in this dimension.

Overall, these are a fairly nice set of world laws for a low-level superhero game. They create a basis for allowing low-level powers, create a plausible background for having villains with stronger abilities (either as foreign antagonists or natives who’ve gone literally power-mad), and allow the PCs a loophole for throwing around some huge effects of their own when they act as a team.

That’s how you make friendship be magic.

THEY CAME FROM GEN CON! – Grixxers, Di’roc’vespizhi, and Mikan

August 6, 2017

With the fiftieth anniversary of Gen Con right around the corner, I decided to complete a project that I’d been kicking around in my head for a while: writing a post about the small number of Gen Con-exclusive D&D characters we’ve seen over the years.

To be clear, this isn’t in reference to characters from games that were only run at Gen Con or anything like that. Rather, from 2006 to 2008, there were a few D&D characters that appeared in the Gen Con program books (which if I recall correctly were no longer mailed out to preregistered attendees at that point, instead only being available on-site). Why the people in charge of writing the program books did this (and have never done it before or since that I know of) isn’t something I ever found out, though for 2007 I suspect it was to celebrate Gen Con’s fortieth anniversary. Given that, perhaps we’ll see a new character in the program book for this year’s fiftieth anniversary?

Either way, here are the characters that have been – up until now – known only to those who attended Gen Con during the following years.

Note that you can click on these for larger versions.

2006: Grixxers

Appearing in the 2006 program book, “Grixxer” is the singular form of the species name, as this race is given both PC information and a monster stat block, along with a brief racial overview.

To be clear, the “name” entry in the upper-left corner appears to be for the individual grixxer illustrated here: Bornek a.k.a. Bob.

 

2007: Di’roc’vespizhi and Mikan

The fortieth anniversary of Gen Con would feature an image of a fearsome red dragon on the cover of the program book. More surprising was that this red dragon, Di’roc’vespizhi, received a page with his statistics, showing him to be one of the strongest dragons ever written for D&D! By contrast, the anime mascot Mikan was a low-level character with no optimization to speak of. There’s an interesting contrast between these two characters, though I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not sure what it is…

At a glance, Di’roc’vespizhi’s stats look very similar to those of Tchazzar in the 2006 Dragons of Faerun book. In fact, there are numerous minor differences between them. (Items marked with an asterisk (*) in his stat block are from the 2003 Draconomicon.)

 

Despite the header reading “Updated” Mikan Character Stats, I can’t find any earlier stat block for her.

 

2008: Mikan 4E

In 2008, Mikan would reappear (being the only one of these characters to ever do so), this time with D&D Fourth Edition stats. She’d be absent the following year, however, vanishing as mysteriously as she came…

Notice that she gained a level at some point. And yet stats for her little dragon companion, Shinji, remain notably missing.

 

Bonus: The Mikan Character Book

At some point during one of these Gen Cons (I can’t remember if it was 2007 or 2008, though I suspect the former) I went up to the information booth that was specific for the anime area of the con to ask about the mysterious Mikan who had somehow gotten her stats in the program book. To my complete surprise, the guys manning the booth shoved a short folio into my hands! Explaining that they’d been told to hand copies of it out to whoever asked about Mikan, free of charge, I was left to peruse the tome. Given that I’m posting her character stats here, it seemed worthwhile to do the same for this short book as well.

…wait, does she mention “The Grixxer” on page 15?!

As a note, the studio that created Mikan’s character, Clone Manga, doesn’t seem to have copies of this work for sale anywhere. In fact, they barely acknowledge that Mikan is their character, with the only references to her I can find being some of the images below appearing on their commercial works page (and even then they don’t mention her name). Hopefully, my reposting this in its entirety here is okay.

Epic Magic in AD&D 2E

July 15, 2017

The concept of “epic” levels – and all of the accompanying features therein, such as epic-level spells, magic items, etc. – was named such in D&D Third Edition. While most people ascribed that to the eponymous Epic Level Handbook, in truth the term had been introduced roughly a year prior, in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting. While the mechanics were brief and somewhat dissimilar from how their finalized form would look, that was where we were told that characters of great power (i.e. level 21+) were “epic” in what they could do.

Naturally, this term has since been retroactively applied to earlier editions of D&D.

Doing so, however, brings up some interesting issues. While there’s little problem with maintaining that “epic” characters are those above 20th level – despite most earlier editions not placing any special emphasis on 20th level as a stopping point – this becomes more difficult when applied to magic. While most earlier incarnations of D&D didn’t really have “epic-level” magic anyway, AD&D 2E had quite a few – several of which could be used before you hit 20th level!

What follows is not meant to be an overview of all alternative systems of magic in AD&D, but rather is a listing of spells and magic systems that “go beyond” what conventional magic can achieve in AD&D. Whether by scope of effect, exceptional requirements to cast, or sheer power, this is magic that cannot be represented by traditional spells and spellcasting. (Also, keep in mind that all of the systems covered here are “player-facing” in their presentation. What that means is that these are all systems that are meant to be (potentially) utilized by PCs, and so have game rules that depict and regulate them. Forms of magic that are meant to be plot devices, and as such have no game rules – such as the Last Word from the Planescape adventure Dead Gods – are not covered here.)

As such, let’s take a look at the “epic-level magic” of AD&D 2E.

10th+ Level Wizard Spells

The most straightforward understanding of epic-level magic, these are the wizard (i.e. arcane) spells of 10th level and above. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are rather few of them, most being found in Netheril: Empire of Magic, part of the Forgotten Realms’ “Arcane Age” line of products. Even there, it was made clear that spells of level 11 and above were allowable only during the specific time specified in that sub-setting. Only 10th-level spells were usable after that, as demonstrated by the two 10th-level spells found in The Fall of Myth Drannor.

Note that the 10th-level spells from the Dark Sun setting are listed under “Psionic Enchantments,” below.

10th-Level: Lefeber’s weave mythal, mavin’s create volcano, mavin’s earthfast, moryggan’s mythaleash (The Fall of Myth Drannor), proctiv’s move mountain, the srinshee’s spellshift (The Fall of Myth Drannor), tolodine’s killing wind, valdick’s spheresail.

11th-Level: Mavin’s worldweave, proctiv’s breach crystal sphere.

12th-Level: Karsus’s avatar (reprinted in Powers & Pantheons with some changes).

It’s interesting to note that, while Netheril: Empire of Magic has very little to say about using 10th-level spells after the fall of the titular Netheril, The Fall of Myth Drannor outlines that casting 10th-level spells in the Forgotten Realms is a process restricted only to the highest-level spellcasters, and is subject to divine review. Secrets of the Magister would later impose even more stringent penalties and restrictions upon casting 10th-level spells in the Realms.

Archmagic

While there were a few third-party products with level 10+ spells for pre-Third Edition D&D (The Tome of Mighty Magic, from North Pole Publications and later reprinted by Gamescience, comes to mind), Mayfair Games’ Archmagic boxed set deserves special mention for the quality of what it offers. Part of their “Role-Aids” line of AD&D-compatible materials, this boxed set introduced numerous epic-level spells, going all the way up to level 15! It should be noted, however, that this boxed set was printed before Netheril: Empire of Magic, and so has its epic-level spells scale differently (e.g. there are no 12th-level spells that will make you a god the way karsus’s avatar will). Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness they’re listed below:

10th-Level: Dual identity, twisted path.

11th-Level: Glory everlasting, minions.

12th-Level: Saving grace, unbearable insight, unnatural fortitude.

13th-Level: Bane divine, blight, enslave the sky, entropy unbound, exclusive essence, knell of darkness, manifest destiny, open gate, persistent rebirth.

14th-Level: Celestial realignment, doom inexorable, genesis.

15th-Level: Greater apocalypse.

Quest Spells

Introduced in the Tome of Magic, quest spells are divine spells of exceptional power that deities will grant to their priests under exigent circumstances. Priests can receive a quest spell without being epic-level, however; the Tome of Magic outlines that priests can receive a quest spell at as low as 10th level (though 12+ is more typical)! Several more quest spells were introduced in The Book of Priestcraft, with each one being specific to a deity of the Birthright campaign setting.

Interestingly, the alternate progression charts for characters in Netheril: Empire of Magic placed quest spells as being something gained via advancement, allowing the strongest priests (level 40+) to receive and use quest spells as a matter of course, instead of deities granting them to higher-level followers in response to notable events. It also had a table showing what quest spells were granted by each deity in that sub-setting.

Note that, in AD&D 2E, the highest level of divine spells that could be granted to clerics, druids, and other full-progression divine spellcasters depended not only on the priest’s level, but also on the strength of the deity. Various near-divine entities could only grant spells of up to 4th level (and often with additional restrictions), demigods could grant spells of up to 5th level, lesser deities could grant spells of up to 6th level, and intermediate and greater deities could grant spells of up to 7th level (the highest level normally available in AD&D 2E). This created a question of which deities could grant quest spells.

While the Tome of Magic is silent on the issue, The Book of Priestcraft lists quest spells for all of its deities, including lesser deities. However, the Greyhawk Player’s Guide states that only greater deities can grant quest spells. (I also distinctly recall – but cannot locate – a question in Dragon magazine’s “Sage Advice” column where Skip Williams stated that only greater or intermediate deities could grant quest spells. Note that the “Sage Advice” column in Dragon #182 says that Dark Sun priests – elemental clerics, druids, and templars – can all receive quest spells.) As such, individual DMs will need to make a final ruling, there.

Quest Spells: Abundance, animal hordeavani’s resuscitation (TBoP), avatar form (TBoP), circle of sunmotes, conformancedaythief (TBoP), elemental swarmerik’s animal compulsion (TBoP), etherwalk, fear contagionhaelyn’s wisdom (TBoP), health blessing, highway, imago interrogation, implosion/inversion, interdictionkriesha’s cursed quest (TBoP), laerme’s emissary (TBoP), mebhaighl touch (TBoP), mindnet, planar quest, preservation, revelation, reversion, robe of healingsera’s blessed luck (TBoP), siege wallship of tears (TBoP), shooting stars, sphere of security, spiral of degeneration, stalker, storm of vengeancetattoos of protection (TBoP), transformation, undead plague, warband quest, ward matrixwarlords of cuiraécen (TBoP), wolf spirits.

Psionic Enchantments

Although presented under the slot-based system of spell memorization, the psionic enchantments of the Dark Sun setting – presented in Dragon Kings and then reprinted (albeit only for the arcane spells, and even then only a few) in Defilers and Preservers: The Wizards of Athas – are different enough to warrant their own section. (The rules for priest characters above 20th level are reprinted in Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, but not the actual spells themselves.)

What makes psionic enchantments so different is the requirements to cast them. Rather than needing exotic components or lengthy preparation times (though these are also oftentimes needed), characters must reach 20th level in their requisite spellcasting class AND be a 20th level psionicist! More than that, however, they must also have begun to transform into an advanced being: an elemental (clerics), spirit of the land (druid), avangion (preserver), or dragon (defiler). Such beings are the only ones capable of utilizing psionic enchantments. As such, while it’s technically possible that characters beyond the Dark Sun setting could learn to use these spells, it’s unsurprising that such a thing has never been seen.

10th-Level (arcane): Abrasion, advanced domination, defiler metamorphosis, defiling regeneration, defiling stasis, dome of invulnerability, enchanted armaments, enslave elemental, immediate animation, just sovereign, life extension, magical minions, magical plague, masquerade, mass fanaticism, mountain fortress, pact, preserver metamorphosis, prolific forestation, prolific vegetation, pure breed, raise nation, recruitment, reverse loyalties, rift, rolling road, undead’s lineage, wall of ash.

8th-Level (divine): Alter climate, create oasis, forever minions, hasten crops, reverse winds, wild weather.

9th-Level (divine): Air of permanence, disruption, mountainous barrier, pocket dimension, prolific vegetation, storm legion.

10th-Level (divine): Cleanse, insect host, planar vassal, prolific forestation, rift, silt bridge.

True Dweomers

Presented in Dungeon Master Option: High-Level Campaigns, true dweomers are quite clearly the ancestor of D&D Third Edition’s epic spells. Both utilize guidelines and tables to allow players and DMs to construct custom spells of great power, usable by wizards or priests. Although High-Level Campaigns compares these to psionic enchantments (calling the latter a formalized development of the former), in fact the two are quite obviously different in virtually every regard.

Other than the example true dweomers in High-Level Campaigns, we don’t see any others…for the most part. One partial exception stands out, however. In Reverse Dungeon, it’s possible for characters to locate the spells invoked devastation and rain of colorless fire. Initially stated as being “9th-level wizard spells that […] have only one-third chance to learn,” a parenthetical note says to use true dweomers from High-Level Campaigns if that book is in play. Both are limited recreations of the original versions, and although they’re not presented with full write-ups, they do have enough described about them to make use of them in a game (though, given the utter annihilation both unleash, including killing the caster, that’s not saying very much).

True Dweomers: Hurd’s obligation, kolin’s undead legion, kreb’s flaming dragon, kreb’s stately veil, nazzer’s nullification, neja’s irresistable plea, neja’s toadstool, neja’s unfailing contempt, ratecliffe’s deadly finger, tenser’s telling blow, wulf’s erasure, wulf’s rectification, yunni’s herald.

War Magic and Battle Spells

Introduced in the Birthright Campaign Setting, and expanded with naval war magic in Cities of the Sun (the latter of which was reprinted in Naval Battle Rules: The Seas of Cerilia), war magic sounds like an incredibly powerful form of new magic. In fact, “war magic” is an entirely artificial distinction, one made solely by Birthright’s mass combat rules. Specifically, “war magic” is the term for existing spells that are large-scale enough to have an effect on mass combat; any other spells cast are simply too insignificant to be represented under the mass combat rules. War magic is broken up into categories based on their effects on a mass combat scenario. The list of war magic spells can be found on war cards #94-101 in the Birthright Campaign Setting.

Transmutations: Transmute rock to mud, transmute water to dust, dig, move earth.

Fogs: Wall of fog, fog cloud, pyrotechnics, solid fog, obscurement, control weather.

Massmorphs: Massmorph, hallucinatory forest, mass invisibility.

Hallucinatory Terrain: The hallucinatory terrain spell has its own war card in the Birthright Campaign Setting explaining its effects in battles.

Walls: Wall of ice, wall of fire, wall of stone, wall of force, wall of iron, wall of thorns.

Blesses: Bless, chant, prayer.

Wizard Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Cloudkill, death fog, prismatic spray, incendiary cloud, meteor swarm, prismatic wall, prismatic sphere.

Wizard Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Fireball, lightning bolt, ice storm, death spell, delayed blast fireball, symbol, power word stun, power word kill.

Wizard Spells (F – attacking unit falls back): Phantasmal force, improved phantasmal force, spectral force, fear, advanced illusion, chaos, permanent illusion, programmed illusion.

Priest Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Fire storm.

Priest Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Call lightning, flame strike, blade barrier, fire seeds, creeping doom, symbol, earthquake, holy word.

Priest Spells (F – attacking unit falls back): Pyrotechnics, insect plague, sunray, illusory artillery, spike growth, spike stones.

The following listings are from war cards #CS91-CS98 in Cities of the Sun (reprinted as war cards #SC44-SC51 in Naval Battle Rules). These are specifically with regard to naval war magic, meaning that they target ships and crews rather than ground-based armies. While these have some overlap with the war magic spells listed above, there are enough differences (i.e. spells being added, deleted, and moved between categories, as well as aggregating wizard and priest attack spells into a single entry) to warrant listing them separately here:

Crew-affecting Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Cloudkill, death fog.

Crew-affecting Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Blade barrier, chaos, symbol, mass charm, fear, prismatic spray, death spell.

Crew-affecting Spells (F – attacking unit falls back): Confusion, pyrotechnics, insect plague, web, rainbow pattern, hypnotic pattern.

Illusions: Phantasmal force, improved phantasmal force, spectral force, advanced illusion, permanent illusion, programmed illusion.

Fog: Wall of fog, fog cloud, pyrotechnics, obscurement, control weather.

Movement Spells: Control weather, control winds, gust of wind.

Barriers: Solid fog, wall of force, lower water, otiluke’s freezing sphere, wall of ice.

Bless: Bless, chant, prayer.

Turn Wood: The turn wood spell has its own war card, allowing the caster to move a single vessel one “battle area” in the direction of their choice.

Attack Spells (D – attacking unit is destroyed): Disintegrate, incendiary cloud, meteor swarm, fire storm.

Attack Spells (R – attacking unit is routed): Fireball, lightning bolt, delayed blast fireball, wall of fire, chain lightning, call lightning, produce fire, fire seeds.

Attack Spells (H – attacking unit is damaged): Flame arrow, melf’s minute meteors, warp wood, flame strike.

Battle spells – listed in The Book of Magecraft and The Book of Priestcraft – are a related category of war magic, in that a “battle spell” is a mass combat variation of a spell that would ordinarily not have an effect on large-scale battles. So while a magic missile spell would not have any notable effect on a mass combat, rain of magic missiles would. Both books list the methods by which battle spells may be researched (and improved upon). Battle spells do not take up a higher level than their tactical counterparts, but often require greater components to cast. Moreover, the books mention that battle spells are not made for a small-scale tactical engagement, and that DMs will need to adjudicate when a situation is or is not a mass combat encounter.

In the listings below, the parenthetical number indicates the spell’s level:

Wizard Battle Spells: Charm unit (1), rain of magic missiles (1), glittering shower (2), rolling fire (2), flying troops (3), monster unit summoning I (3), slow unit (3), aura of invulnerability (4), enchanted weapons (4), stoneskinned army (4), animate army (5), shadow troops (5), wolf in the fold (5).

Priest Battle Spells: Erik’s entanglement (1), avani’s asylum (1), oaken strike (1), turn undead unit (1), barkskinned unit (1), charm unit (2), hammer storm (2), animate army (3), dispel battle magic (3), haelyn’s holy warding (3), cure unit (4), ruornil’s silver robes (4).

Elven High Magic

The idea of elves having a form of subtle yet supremely powerful magic is one that predates D&D. However, while the game was quite comfortable with nodding in that direction, the demihuman level limits for elves caused a contradiction between what was alluded to and what was possible under the game rules. Insofar as the Forgotten Realms was concerned, the answer to that was that elves had a powerful form of ritual magic known as “High Magic.” While typically used as a background element, game rules for High Magic were finally presented in Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves, another product in the “Arcane Age” line.

High Magic rituals are, at the top end, extremely powerful, but this is balanced by extremely stringent requirements and heavy backlash effects on the casters. Rituals are divided into three categories (from weakest to strongest): Solitude, Complement, and Myriad. Each ritual has two listings, the first in Elvish and the second being the Common translation. Both are given below:

Rituals of Solitude: Adoessuor/”The Reverie of Ages,” Akh’Faen’Tel’Quess/”Life of Duty, Form of the People’s Need,” Daoin’Teague’Feer/”Starshine Upon the People,” Evaliir’Enevahr/”The Song of Evenahr,” Kai’Soeh’takal/”Skin and Breath of the Wyrm,” Ol’Iirtal’Eithun/”Flights of True Mark, Arrows of Art,” Saloh’Cint’Nias/”Gift of Alliance,” Theur’foqal/”Summoned Shield, Conjured Screen,” U’Aestar’Kess/”One Heart, One Mind, One Breath,” Vuorl’Kyshuf/”A Message on Birds’ Wings to Silver.”

Rituals of Complement: Ahrmaesuol/”The High Revival, Restoration,” Ghaatiil/”The Traveling Path,” Ialyshae’Seldar’Wihylos/”Sacraments of the Seldarine Blessing,” Fhaor’Akh’Tel’Quess/”Tribute of One’s Duty to the People,” N’Maernthor/”Hidden Homeland,” N’Tel’Orar/”Corrosion/Erosion,” Oacil’Quevan/”The Forms of Unity and Age Among Forests,” Quamaniith/”The Vow Tangible,” Suyoll/”The Revival.”

Rituals of Myriad: Arrn’Tel’Orar/”Storm Erosion,” Elaorman/”Place from All Around and Nowhere, Home of Summoning,” N’Quor’Khaor/”The Banishing, Binding Outside of the People’s Lands,” Uaul’Selu’Keryth/”The Sundering, At War with the Weave.”

Realm Spells

Realm spells are another type of large-scale magic found in the Birthright setting. Initially presented in the Birthright Campaign Setting – with more found in The Book of Magecraft and The Book of Priestcraft – realm magic requires that a wizard or priest not only have a divine bloodline, but also have mastered a domain and formed a connection to it. Casting a realm spell requires a realm with enough inherent magic (or enough devotional energy, for priests), sufficient gold, enough of a connection to the land, requisite personal power, and a month of time. But as exacting as that is, the results can be well worth it.

Realm spells do not have spell levels. Instead, each requires a sufficient character level (that is, level of wizard or priest; these days we’d call it “caster level”) in order to cast, among other prerequisites as listed above. In the listings below, the parenthetical numbers indicate the necessary character level in order to cast each realm spell.

Wizard Realm Spells: Alchemy (1st), dispel realm magic (1st), scry (1st), subversion (1st), battle fury (2nd) (TBoM), coffer credit (2nd) (TBoM), detect ley line (2nd) (TBoM), inflame (2nd) (TBoM), royal facade (2nd) (TBoM), trace ley line (2nd) (TBoM), demagogue (3rd), ley trap (3rd) (TBoM), mask ley line (3rd) (TBoM), mass destruction (3rd), summoning (3rd), transport (3rd), gold rush (4th) (TBoM), protect source (4th) (TBoM), regent site (4th) (TBoM), death plague (5th), feign destruction (5th) (TBoM), protect ley line (5th) (TBoM), stronghold (5th), warding (5th), defection (6th) (TBoM), legion of dead (7th), ley ward (7th) (TBoM), raze (7th), shadow block (8th) (TBoM), deactivate ley line (9th) (TBoM), enhance source (9th) (TBoM), deplete mebhaighl (10th) (TBoM), siphon mebhaighl (12th) (TBoM), sunder ley line (12th) (TBoM), poison source (16th) (TBoM).

Priest Realm Spells: Bless army (1st), bless land (1st), dispel realm magic (1st), investiture (1st), protection from realm magic (1st) (TBoP), true believer (1st) (TBoP), holy war (2nd) (TBoP), magical tithe (2nd) (TBoP), maintain armies (2nd) (TBoP), blight (3rd), population growth (3rd) (TBoP), ward realm (3rd) (TBoP), bless holding (4th) (TBoP), conversion(4th) (TBoP), excommunicate (5th) (TBoP), honest dealings (5th), legion of dead (5th) (TBoP), erik’s mighty forests (6th) (TBoP), one true faith (12th) (TBoP), consecrate relic (16th) (TBoP).

High Sciences

Unlike everything mentioned up until now, the high sciences are not a form of magic. Rather, they’re psionic in nature. This is not an insignificant point, as psionics – initially presented in PHBR5 The Complete Psionics Handbook, and later updated in Player’s Option: Skills & Powers (with the updated rules being reprinted in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting Revised and Expanded) – in AD&D 2E are very different from magic, and the default is that they don’t interact with each other unless something says that they do.

While psionics are used in psionic enchantments (listed above), those are more magical in nature than psionic. Rather, psionic enchantments utilize a character’s psionic abilities to hone their mind to handle stronger magical powers (to paraphrase what it says in Dragon Kings). However, high sciences – presented in The Will and the Way – are entirely psionic in nature. Each one of the apex of a particular psionic discipline, and only a single-classed psionicist can attempt to learn one (so would-be users of psionic enchantments should become a psionicist first in order to learn a high science, and then dual-class). Even then, they can only learn the high science for their primary discipline, and learning it requires intense research. Each one is listed below, with its associated psionic discipline noted parenthetically.

High Sciences: Cosmic awareness (clairsentience), elemental composition (psychometabolism), mass contact (telepathy), megakinesis (psychokinesis), planar transposition (psychoportation).

Bonus: Immortal-Level Spells

Everything up until now has been with regard to AD&D Second Edition, largely because that’s the only edition that really had magic that went above and beyond standard spellcasting…with one exception.

The Immortals of (what’s now called) Basic Dungeons & Dragons, or BD&D, were initially introduced in Set 5: Immortals Rules. While this provided rules for PCs to ascend beyond mortality and become gods (strictly speaking the Immortals were said not to be gods, but in practical terms this was a distinction without a difference), it had comparatively little to say about what magic Immortals used, largely restricting itself to how mortal spells could be invoked via expenditures of an Immortal’s innate power.

This was tweaked when the Immortal-level rules were revised in Wrath of the Immortals. While these rules still kept the ability of Immortals to directly invoke mortal spells (often with a few upgrades), this set introduced Immortal-level spells, being magic that only Immortals could learn and cast. These spells are as follows:

Immortal-Level Spells: Bestow, conceal magical nature, create species, detect immortal magic, hear supplicants, immortal eye, increase spell duration, power attack, probe, probe-shield, reduce saving throw, shape reality, transform.

Conclusion

With eight different listings for AD&D 2E and one for Basic D&D, these represent the sum total of what could reasonably be considered “epic” magic in pre-Third Edition D&D. As noted at the beginning of the article, there are plenty of other magic systems out there for AD&D 2E – such as the rune magic of vikings and giants, for example – but these are the ones that push the limits of what magic (and psionics) is normally capable of under the game rules. If you plan on using them in your game, take care that they don’t make a mess of your campaign, as using epic magic without due consideration can result in a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Tails of Equestria – Character Levels and the Mane Six

June 18, 2017

One of the most enjoyable parts of an RPG adaptation of a popular series is seeing how it stats out the characters from that series. That’s because – since RPG fans are inveterate tinkerers who want to quantify their fantasies so as to better understand (and so enjoy) them – this lets us get a better handle on what they can do. With that level of concrete information, we can evaluate them in more objective terms; this forms a more stable foundation that we can hang new possibilities on, and so let our imaginations run (even more) wild.

Tails of Equestria, with its stats for the Mane Six, is no exception to this.

Pony Power Levels

Chapter 11 goes over the process of gaining levels. In brief, a PC (pony character) gains a level every time they finish an adventure, regardless of how many sessions that takes. Experience isn’t tracked; it’s one level per adventure, period. (Mini-adventures, such as The Gift Horse, are typically meant to be dropped into their full-length counterparts as an extra scenario, rather than being treated as full adventures in-and-of themselves.)

Gaining a level if a fairly simple process in Tails of Equestria. You increase one of your traits by one die size (and, if it’s Body or Mind, increase your Stamina points accordingly). You increase all of the talents that you used during the adventure by one die size (which means that canny players will try and find a way to use as many of their talents as they can during the adventure). You increase a single talent that you didn’t use by one die size OR learn a brand new talent at D4 value. You might choose an additional quirk, though this isn’t recommended.

That’s pretty much it.

The chapter also notes that characters that reach level 10 should typically be retired. Adventures for ponies beyond that point are “epic quests” due to the scope of the challenges that ponies of such a high level will likely face. (I also can’t help but note the amusing irony that ponies above level 10 are, essentially, “epic-level” characters.)

Naturally, this leads us to wonder if the Mane Six – whose stat blocks are on pages 136-137 – are epic-level ponies. At a glance, it’s not immediately obvious, since their stat blocks don’t list their character levels. Luckily, we can reverse-engineer their stats to figure out what level they are; while this can’t be done with their talents (since those are only raised if they were “used” or not during adventures, and so can’t be reliably measured), their traits have starting values and rates of increase that are set.

All 1st-level characters in Tails of Equestria start with a D4 and a D6, which they can place in either their Mind or Body traits as they choose. Their Charm trait always starts out as a D6. Finally, earth ponies – thanks to their Stout Heart racial talent – always bump up their Body value by one die size. In other words, we know what the total value of a 1st-level character’s traits will be. Since we know that characters always bump up a single trait by one die size when they gain a level, we can subtract this from a character’s starting trait values to figure out what their level is.

How does she not have “Being Awesome” as a talent?

For example, Rainbow Dash has Body D20, Mind D10, and Charm D10. Regardless of how she arranged her initial Mind and Body trait values (i.e. whether she started out with Body D6 and Mind D4, or Body D4 and Mind D6), we can chart the number of die increases she’s received, and the number will be the same either way. In this case, her current traits represent nine increases over a 1st-level character’s trait values…meaning that she’s level 10.

Some quick calculations show that this is the same for Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rarity; all are level 10 characters.

Twilight probably should be the same, but there’s a bit of an issue with saying for certain. If we judge her by the starting trait values of a unicorn (since she was one originally), then she’s received ten increases, rather than nine, which would make her a level 11 character. But as I noted previously, she should likely have the Stout Heart talent of an earth pony, due to her alicorn nature. Since having this talent automatically increases your Body trait by one die size, that would mean that Twilight has only gained nine increases, and so is a level 10 character, the same as her friends. That strikes me as being more in keeping with her character (even if she has had several adventures on her own, such as the events of Equestria Girls and Rainbow Rocks).

EDIT (01/01/18): Twilight’s stat block is reprinted in The Bestiary of Equestria, with a correction in the form of her receiving the Stout Heart talent (at a D6 value). Since none of her traits are altered, this confirms that she’s a level 10 character like her friends.

Naturally, this leads us to wonder what – out of over a hundred-fifty episodes – these nine adventures have been that raised the Mane Six’s levels. It’s tempting to consider the major two-parters that constitutes most of the season premieres and finales up through the beginning of season six (the earliest that Tails of Equestria can reasonably be set, since it references Flurry Heart), but not all of the Mane Six participated in those (e.g. the events of the season five finale, The Cutie Re-Mark – Parts 1 & 2).

Epic Ponies

By now it’s fairly obvious why the rules recommend retiring a character that hits 10th level: a unicorn or pegasus that hits 14th level (or an earth pony that hits 13th level) will be able to max out all of their traits as D20s! What happens if they continue gaining levels after that? Well, the rules don’t say, but they do give us a hint…

Several creatures have multiple dice for a trait, such as how the ursa minor has a whopping 3D20 for its Body trait! More relevant to ponies is that Zecora’s (p. 135) traits are Body D12, Mind D20+D6, and Charm D20. From this, we can infer what happens for ponies that want to increase their traits past a D20 value: they start adding a second die! As per Zecora’s stat block, second dice for the Body or Mind traits count towards your total Stamina points.

Presuming that Zecora started out with the trait values of a typical pony (i.e. a D4 and D6 for her Mind and Body stats and a D6 for Charm), then her current trait dice make her a level 15 character!

A second die for a trait – which I’ll go ahead and say should always start at a D4, just like a new talent – is most likely treated similarly to how you use talents in conjunction with traits. That is, you roll both dice at once, and take the highest value rolled; you do not add them together. So if Zecora were rolling her Mind trait, she would roll a D20 and a D6, and take whichever rolled the highest (if she were using a relevant talent,  such as Keen Knowledge: Potions (D20), she would roll that as well, taking the best result from all three dice). Having a second die therefore means that you’re much less likely to have bad rolls (this will become more true if you continue to increase your second die’s size). GMs should probably strictly enforce the note on page 87 that no trait should be more than two die sizes above any other…though ironically Zecora herself, with her Body D12 and Mind D20+D6, is breaking that guideline!

These same rules should apply for talents that are increased beyond a D20 as well. Note that any trait or talent that reaches a D20 value – let alone gets a second die – is no longer able to use the Exploding Hoof technique (page 57); when you’re already rolling a D20 normally, rolling a only single die in hopes of getting maximum die value so that you can roll the next larger die is pointless.

In the event that a character ends up with 2D20 and still wants to increase the die value, then they can add a third in the same way, with potentially no limit to the number of dice that can be gained, though at that point you’ve likely gone well beyond what the book would consider to be epic adventures!

For a character that powerful, becoming an alicorn is likely something of an afterthought.