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Splatbook Cancer

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In the never-ending quest for power they forged an idea: the splatbook (expansion book). Revenue, alternatives, exotic-ness, all for the price of admission. Unfortunately designers desired for their exotic class to be the one ruling class and power creep spread like a shadow. More splatbooks furthered it like mutating cells and the cancer took root in the industry.

The flowery language is to describe something I’ve observed over decades. Splatbooks have power creep. More splatbooks make more power creep. More power creep makes cancerous character builds. Cancer characters castrate core characters.

For d20 system games the power creep can be extreme. It is not limited to them. Some games have power creep that destroys its internal narrative: Exalted, for example, where Solars become the least capable of the celestial reincarnations once splatbook cancer sets in yet the narratives says they are the world-savers. The main focus of expansions ought to be world building and campaign. Character classes are where the splatbook cancer creeps and requires the most vigilance to prevent class destabilization. What I recommend is buying world/source books over character class expansion books.

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Four against One equals a fair fight

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It suddenly dawned on slow-old me that the meta-game premise for d20 in general is that four CRx vs. 1 CRx is a fair fight (for the four). Why? They will almost certainly win, barring terrible luck synchronising with the one’s bad luck, and lose very little resources. As soon as  you look at it the other way, say the PCs are the monsters and the NPCs the heroes, it becomes quite bizarre and truly gamist.


The assumption that many d20 players make is that all their encounters will be within the CR guidelines as presented in the DMG. This automatically prevents sandbox play if the GM adheres to that formula. If party of 4 level 1 characters goes deliberately hunting the great-dragon-sitting-on-treasure-mountain then the CR of the dragon has to be CR5 or less. What that does to the internal-causality of the world is nothing less than defenestrating.


Sure it’s preference and all that but basic logic shows it to be nothing more than an insurance policy against player death. If that’s the meta-game you want when you play why bother with rules of conflict at all, since ultimately the player has to win?

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How to easily make d20 “gritty”?

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d20 is designed, in a meta-game sense, for the PCs to end up as deific beings with manga-comic super abilities. That is great fun except when you don’t want those beings to be possible. One might say that d20 is the wrong system however I say it’s an okay system that is like learning blues on guitar. It lets you jam with anyone.


Gritty is just code-word for “dangerous”, or the possibility that you can die quickly in combat: kind of like real life. So here’s some options:

1) Hit points max out as Str + Con + Base Fort Save

2) Critical strikes automatically inflict maximum damage

3) Death starts at –1 HP.

4) Heal spells aren’t instantaneous – they’re overnight; thereby forcing them to be combined with rest.

5) Any critical strike (regardless of if you use 2 above) requires a Fort save of DC 10 + damage inflicted, or the target is stunned for 1 round.


And one can go on.

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Shields and d20: revisited

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This is an optional rule for increasing the usefulness of shields in d20.

When using a shield against an opponent who does not have a shield (bucklers do not count for this), add the shield AC modifier to your attack rolls against that opponent.

Modeling the versatility of the shield in this case it is about stressing its usefulness when one is fighting another who has no shield. The shield can take & deflect blows, and because of this allow effective counter-striking; since one has much better protection against sneaky things like sliding over the ricasso.

Try it out in your next d20 game and tell me what you think. Suddenly that 2 or 3 points of shield AC becomes very useful against all those beasts with stupidly high “Natural AC” bonuses.

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The End of an Arc; the End of Hastus Rimechaille

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It’s been a long time coming; the end of this campaign. The mighty evil was defeated.

My character, Hastus Rimechaille, was a diplomat and tax-investigator He was very well-suited to the game  because of the influence of nobility on the plot. In combat-style he was somewhere between a duellist and a traditional rogue, but he was quick to talk in most situations.

Hastus was also my first character built with Eclipse that I gamed with at the table. He was not very optimised but did have a lot of presence when I gamed with him. I think the other players quite enjoyed Hastus or at the least found him an identifiable character. Hastus survived the battle with an ancient evill dragon god and finished the campaign at level-12. He is one of my most favourite PCs of all time.



imageWhat comes next though it that toughest of things: deciding what kind of game we all want to take part in.

Hastus Rimechaille, tax-investigator to the Duke of Karrakis and secret-agent of the King of Kubuldar

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Shields in d20: alternative mechanics

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Shields are great – particularly when your opponent doesn’t have one. There’s a few ways to better model this in d20-based systems (like DnD, OGL, SRD, etc).


1. Instead of the shield’s AC bonus you can use the shield to “soak” damage. Convert the shield’s AC bonus to Damage Reduction. You become easier to hit but harder to damage. This is the willingness to take a hit on the shield.


2. Forfeit the AC bonus of the shield. Instead make a roll to “soak” the damage with the shield if you are struck. In v3.x roll vs. a DC of 10 + Opponent’s BAB + weapon specialization (and the like). The shield-wielder adds their BAB + shield specializations (and the like). Each point of success reduces the damage by an extra point.

Eg. DC is 19. Roll a total of 21. Reduce damage by 3 (19, 20, 21).


2a. Shields can be given a maximum damage they soak before they “splinter”.

Eg. a buckler might be able to soak 15 damage before it splinters (is made useless).


3. When one has a shield and the opponent does not double the AC mod.


The point here is that with a little bit of thought shield function can be better reflected in any system.

(Image from: )

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How to make a real Archmage

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One of the constraints of general d20 is the lack of a cross-realm caster like Rolemaster’s archmage. By cross-realm I mean conversant in the use and knowledge of all types of magic. In d20 this is arcane, divine and psionics. In Rolemaster (RM) it was Essence, Channelling and Mentalism.

It might be easy to say that a character could multi-class their way to approximate the RM archmage.  But what if you want to start from level-1 and take the various hits to your powers so that you can stay true to your concept?

Eclipse: the Codex Persona, to the rescue.

Sejanus, Archmage

Sejanus is an archmage. A caster of any types of magic. He is a member of the esoteric order of Ogham Divina. Part of order membership is various duties. They members are respected and privileged as scholars and lawyers. They are often expected to adjudicate legal matters. Members also must contribute 20% of their monies to the order or to certain charities is the order is not present in that area. To even join the order one must have the aptitude to learn magic (Fast Learner: Magic) and to absorb knowledge quickly (Fast Learner: Skills). Most of his time is spent tracking down obscure parts of old books, rumours of magic, and testing formulae or potential members.

Sejanus is in late middle-age (tends to overlook simple things like catching a carriage instead of walking to the next town), blocked from learning martial feats, and a terrible liar (bluff –5, incompetent).

The cross-realm magical abilities have restricted the way Sejanus can learn spells. He must make a Spellcraft check to recognise the spell he wants to learn. If he fails, he misses out on learning that spell/ability. However, he can use Spellcraft as Psicraft and vice versa. At low-levels this is not a big risk of missing a known spell. At higher levels it becomes more likely that powers will not be learnt (DC=[Spell Level + 1] times 5)

Sejanus’ main magical usefulness is in preparing powers and having them available to Triggering. He can “programme” a string of spells if need be and they can be activated based on his wherewithal in the preparation.

Here’s the gritty bits.

Sejannus: Archmage, level-4

Human: racial bonus feat, fast learner (skills), fast learner (magic), bonus feats (L-1/3/6/9 etc.), bonus attributes (+1 L-4/8, etc.)

BAB/Warcraft: +2

Saves: Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +3

Hit Points: 17 (4d4 + Con)

Proficiencies: all simple weapons


Appraise +2

Concentration +5

Decipher Script +3

Gather Info. +3

Heal +1

Know: Arcane +2

Know: history +2

Know: religion +2

Move Silently +2

Prof: Lawyer +4

Sense Motive +3

Spellcraft +5

Magic Abilities

+4 Base Caster Levels: for all magic types

L-4 Psion: specialised, spellcraft check to learn new powers

L-4 Wizard: specialised, spellcraft check to learn new powers

L-4 Cleric (no package): specialised, spellcraft check to learn new powers


MAGIC Save DCs Slots/Known Effects Learn DC
SPELL LVL Psi/Arc Div Psions Arcane Divine Spellcraft
0 14 14 PP/25 5/10 6/7 5
1 15 15 4/9 4/4 10
2 16 16 9 pwrs 3/4 3/3 15

This means Sejanus has a lot of powers (if he made his Spellcraft checks). The odds are that he’ll know most of those powers listed. Still, he is only one person and has quite a few limitations that are permanent. Ie. they can’t be overcome later with “feats that create exceptions”. I can see for some GM’s they’ll balk at this but I’d be happy to run such a PC because there’s so much control over it via the Duties.

Metamagical Theorems





Magic Efficiency

SR/PR Improved, 10 + Level, 14

Lore: loremaster

Privilege: loremaster, lawyer, minor legal powers, receive hospitality


Aged (does silly things, like walk instead of ride unless reminded), Blocked (martial feats), Incompetent (bluff –5)

Advancement Ideas

Metamagic: Amplify (once have SL4 slots), Mana, BCL Increase, Magic Progressions increase, SR/PR Improved, Conversion (evasion/location spells), Spell Pool (wiz/clr), Skill Emphasis (sense motive), Persistent (metamagic)

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Khara Thel d20?

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I’ve been resisting for a long time but it’s such a massive market to deny. After playing a bit of d20 (DnD) with the Eclipse: Codex Persona, I’ve found it fun for the first time in years. There are still some core ideas that I find rather silly and the spells tend to have far too great a range, but I’ve got it in my head that making Khara Thel for d20 would open it up to a much larger audience. It’s a lot of work, though, and I’ve got no idea how long it’ll take me to do.

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