Posts Tagged ‘Eclipse’

When You Ness With the Best

March 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that’s a war face!

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

Ness, 13th-level psychic savant

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

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

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

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

Human, Esper (25 CP/+0 ECL)

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

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

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

Basic Abilities (167 CP)

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

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

Psionic Prowess (211 CP)

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

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

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

Power Turning

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

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

POWER TURNING

Discipline psychokinesis; Level psion/wilder 7, tactician 7

Display mental, visual

Manifesting Time 1 standard action

Range personal

Target you

Duration until completely expended or 10 minutes/level

Power Points 13

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

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

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

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

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

Creative Combatant (13 CP)

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

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

Well-Rounded (6 CP)

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

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

Gear

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

The Star Pendant as a Magic Item

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

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

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

CLARITY OF MIND

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

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

Derived Stats

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

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

Little Slugger (Str)

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

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

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

Further Development

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

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

From PSI to Psionics

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

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

Eclipsing Dead Levels

March 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eclipse and the Piao Shih

February 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Abilities (385 CP or 379 CP Pathfinder)

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

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

Class Abilities (107 CP)

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

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

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

Tactical Abilities (pick two)

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

Strategic Abilities (pick two)

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

The Coin King

July 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Traits

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

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

Basic Abilities (21 CP)

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

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

Coin Combatant (17 CP)

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

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

Superior Coin Combatant (17 CP)

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

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

Ranged Combat Expert (8 CP)

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

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

Autodidactic (14 CP)

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

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

Gear

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

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

Derived Stats

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

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

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

Zenigata Ryu (Dex)

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

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

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

Further Development

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

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

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

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

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 famous, 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 -8 (treat as Dex -4 for modifying AC, initiative, Reflex saves, and ranged attack rolls), Con +12, -4 to attacks/AC, 20-foot space, 20-foot reach, -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 (an epic weapon at caster level 21+).

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 could 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.

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.

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.

Eclipse and Psychic Magic

May 26, 2017

Pathfinder is often hailed as being “3.75,” a moniker that it comes by honestly. However, as much as it kept the central components of 3.5 alive, it altered or eschewed several of the peripheral elements. One of the more notable instances of this is in how Pathfinder has discarded psionics in favor of psychic magic.

Presented as filling the same conceptual niche as psionics, psychic magic has several differences from arcane or divine magic. So how easy is it to use with Eclipse: The Codex Persona? To answer that, let’s take a look at the various aspects of psychic magic and see how well they can be translated over.

Neither Arcane Nor Divine: The rules for psychic magic state: “Psychic spellcasters aren’t affected by effects that target only arcane or divine spellcasters, nor can they use arcane or divine scrolls or other items or feats that state they can be utilized by only arcane or divine spellcasters.” This is a distinction that can be taken as-is. The magic progressions in Eclipse (pg. 11-14) determine things such as spells per day, spells known for spontaneous casters, and how broad your spell list is. Determining what type of magic buying levels in a progression represents is a separate consideration – much like determining which ability score is tied to your spellcasting – and so has no CP cost.

Thought and Emotion Components: The single largest difference between psychic magic and other kinds of magic is that it doesn’t have verbal or somatic components. Rather, it has thought and emotion components. What’s important here is what the text says about how these correlate to each other: “If a spell’s components line lists a somatic component, that spell instead requires an emotion component when cast by psychic spellcasters, and if it has a verbal component, it instead requires a thought component when cast by psychic spellcasters.”

This tells us that psychic spells are still using components; they’re just using ones which introduce different possible interferences to casting spells. Specifically, spells with emotion components can’t be cast when under the effect of a non-harmless emotion or fear effect, and spells with a thought component have all of their concentration DCs increased by 10 unless the spellcaster spends a move action focusing their mind immediately before casting. The text also notes that there are special metamagic feats to alleviate these restrictions, just as there are for verbal and somatic components.

At a glance it might look like these limitations are easier than traditional verbal or somatic components, but if we think about it that’s really not the case. After all, being affected by non-harmless emotion or fear spells is hardly something that happens less often over a character’s adventuring career than being grappled. Likewise, you’re likely to make concentration checks far more often than you are to be affected by an area of magical silence. So in this regard these aren’t really problems.

What’s more notable – and only obliquely covered in the psychic magic rules – is that psychic spellcasting doesn’t need inexpensive material components; only expensive ones, and focus components, are required. Moreover, it indirectly indicates that psychic spells can be cast in armor (mostly by way of saying that it’s not subject to effects specific to arcane magic, such as armor’s arcane spell failure chance).

So how can we represent all of this in Eclipse?

While the swapping of verbal and somatic components for thought and emotion components would seem to indicate that this is simply an alteration of the Components limitation (p. 11), that isn’t the case, hence why armor can be freely used and minor material components aren’t necessary. In fact, this is a minor variation of the Conduct limitation, representing a high grade of personal mental discipline, similar to the faith-based aspect of divine spellcasting, though not focused around any religious traditions.

Sentimental Substitution: One often-overlooked aspect of psychic magic is that it allows for a tiny bit of flexibility where expensive material components (but not foci) are concerned: “When a spell calls for an expensive material component, a psychic spellcaster can instead use any item with both significant meaning and a value greater than or equal to the spell’s component cost. For example, if a spiritualist wanted to cast raise dead to bring her dead husband back from the grave, she could use her 5,000 gp wedding ring as the spell’s material component.”

Unlike the previous entries, this represents something above and beyond what most other forms of spellcasting normally can do. Components are still components, for example, but this ability allows for characters with it to have more options than those that don’t. As such, this one is going to actually have a cost associated with it, since greater flexibility represents an advantage under the game rules.

Being able to substitute another item of equal or greater value for an expensive material component, so long as it’s one of notable personal value, can be represented via Privilege for 3 CP. That’s not very costly, but then again this is only a minor bit of flexibility. Plenty of GMs, for example, seem to hand-wave changing 5,000 gp worth of coins into a 5,000 gp diamond for casting raise dead.

Undercasting: Psychic spellcasters can – when casting a spell that has multiple versions of a different spell level each (e.g. summon monster I, summon monster II, summon monster III, etc.) – choose to cast that spell and invoke a lower-level effect. “For example, a psychic spellcaster who adds ego whip III to his list of spells known can cast it as ego whip I, II, or III. If he casts it as ego whip I, it is treated in all ways as that spell; it uses the text and the saving throw DC for that spell, and requires him to expend a 3rd-level spell slot.”

This is, quite obviously, a rather poor ability. As written, the psychic caster is giving up a 3rd-level spell slot in order to use a 1st-level version of the 3rd-level spell in question, but there’s no reason given for why they’d want to do that. While there might be certain situations where you’d want to restrain the power of an effect you’ll unleash, there’s no inherent benefit presented in this example. At least when you cast summon monster III as though it was summon monster I you get extra creatures as a result.

Given just how poor of an option this is, the best way to represent undercasting in an Eclipse game is simply to throw it out in favor of metaspells (p. 30). As written, that requires that characters purchase the metaspells in question, but as with purchasing spells directly with Character Points (p. 11) you can instead simply have them be available in the setting for characters to buy (with gp), steal, discover, or otherwise acquire, though this should require some care on the GM’s part. Either way, this isn’t an option that should be directly tied to psychic spellcasting.

With that, all of the salient aspects of psychic magic have been covered. As we can see, not only is it not at all difficult to make use of this style of spellcasting under Eclipse, it’s not even that expensive to build a psychic spellcaster compared to their arcane or divine peers. The entire net cost is 3 CP for a tangential ability that, if not wanted, can be easily discarded while keeping the rest.

And that kind of character customization is what Eclipse is all about.