Serial Numbers Filed Off: Empire’s Edge

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Crisis

The greater demons began to appear a decade ago, massive beasts that would emerge from Astral folds seemingly at random. They always appeared at the fringes of our empire: from the seas, the mountains, the desert, or wherever else our mighty realm could not tame. Perhaps the order of civilization keeps them at bay, or perhaps they are just trying to show us how weak we truly are. Whatever the reason, they appear, destroy our frontier villages, and slowly push desolation and terror toward the heart of culture and society.

Each of them possesses gifts beyond those of the smaller demons summoned by spells. In addition to their great size, each travels with a wide and chaotic aura. Poison and disease, fire and lightning, madness and pain: whole armies fall before them and even the greatest heroes are vulnerable to the shifting death for there are few of the mighty that are not weak to some bane. The greatest warriors succumb to terrors of the mind, the greatest magi succumb to torrents of energy, and the greatest scouts succumb to torments of the flesh. Many died just getting within range to fight.

But there was hope: our greatest spellworkers began to research magics that could resist these creatures. These spells would allow two heroes to become one for the battle: their minds in synch, their bodies a gestalt. They’d gain greater size to fight the beasts, combine their strengths to resist the deadly auras, and blend their fighting talents to have more options in battle. Where many would fall, a few such combined beings might have a chance to save us all.

Magic

Gestalt Merge I

School Transmutation; Level Sorcerer/Wizard 1

CASTING

Casting Time 1 action
Components V, S

EFFECT

Range touch
Target two willing adjacent creatures of the same size and type
Duration 1 round per level
Saving Throw Fortitude negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

DESCRIPTION

This spell combines two individuals into a gestalt entity that shares the strengths and skills of both. It can only affect two creatures of the same size and type, and cannot affect creatures that are already merged. When the spell is cast, the two individuals are replaced by a combined individual with the following effects:

  • The combined entity becomes one size category larger. This is similar to Enlarge Person (and cannot combine with Enlarge Person): The entity gains +2 Strength, -2 Dexterity, the size penalty of the new size (for attack, defense, and skills), and increases damage and reach by size.
  • The entity’s ability scores are equal to whichever score is lower for each score, plus the modifier for whichever is higher (e.g., a character with Strength 16 merges with a character with Strength 12; the combined Strength becomes 15).
  • The entity’s effective hit dice become the higher of the two individuals. The entity’s maximum hit points become the sum of the two characters’ unmerged HP (don’t adjust based on Constitution changed by the merge), and its current hit points become the sum of the two characters’ current HP (i.e., damage carries over into the merge).
  • All gear resizes to fit the new form. When items are duplicated within a slot, choose one item to be subsumed into the form and become inactive (e.g., if both characters wear a magical belt, keep the effects of one and ignore the effects of the other for the duration of the merge).
  • The entity takes the higher of either character’s base saves and base attack bonus, modified by the new ability scores.
  • The entity gains access to all feats, special abilities, spells, and skills possessed by either character (using the modified ability scores when necessary).
  • Any positive or negative temporary effects on the individual characters before the merge are ignored until after the merge unless both characters have them; the duration for each counts down during the merge.
  • A proper merge requires synchronization of minds: for every alignment step between the two individuals, apply one negative level for the duration of the merge (e.g., a LN and CG character takes 3 Negative Levels).

When the spell ends, the entity splits back into the two characters in adjacent spaces, wearing their original gear (less any that was lost during the merge). Any damage taken and effects gained during the merge are allocated as desired by the characters between them (e.g., if the merged entity had 30 points of damage and was poisoned, one character might take 20 points of the damage while the other takes 10 points and the remaining effects of the poison).

Gestalt Merge II

School Transmutation; Level Sorcerer/Wizard 2

EFFECT

Duration 1 minute per level

This spell functions as Gestalt Merge I except for the increased duration.

Gestalt Merge III

School Transmutation; Level Sorcerer/Wizard 3

This spell functions as Gestalt Merge II except:

  • The entity gains an additional Swift action each round.
  • The entity gains the full modifications for increasing a size category instead of +2 Strength and -2 Dexterity (e.g., Medium to Large gains +8 Strength, -2 Dexterity, +4 Constitution, and +2 Natural Armor). The effect still cannot be combined with Enlarge Person. Since the entity’s HP are not affected by adjusted Constitution, instead give the entity temporary HP equal to the bonus Constitution modifier from increased size times hit dice (e.g., a level 10 entity would gain 20 temporary HP).

Gestalt Merge IV

School Transmutation; Level Sorcerer/Wizard 4

EFFECT

Duration 10 minutes per level

This spell functions as Gestalt Merge III except for the increased duration and the entity gains the benefit of two minds; when making a Will save, the entity rolls twice and keeps the higher result.

Gestalt Merge V

School Transmutation; Level Sorcerer/Wizard 5

This spell functions as Gestalt Merge IV except that instead of using the lower of the combined characters’ ability scores as the base plus the mod from the higher, instead use the higher of the combined characters’ ability scores plus the mod from the lower (e.g., a character with Strength 16 merges with a character with Strength 12; the combined Strength becomes 17).

Gestalt Merge VI

School Transmutation; Level Sorcerer/Wizard 6

This spell functions as Gestalt Merge V except that the combined entity gains an additional Standard action each round.

Gestalt Merge VII

School Transmutation; Level Sorcerer/Wizard 7

EFFECT

Duration 1 hour per level

This spell functions as Gestalt Merge VI except for the increased duration.

Gestalt Merge VIII

School Transmutation; Level Sorcerer/Wizard 8

This spell functions as Gestalt Merge VII except that any single-target non-damaging negative conditions applied to the entity do not take effect during the merge. Instead, they are delayed until the merge ends, and apply to only one of the characters (for their full durations). Essentially, one of the characters is absorbing the condition but not distributing it to the entity as a whole. This can include poisons, diseases, paralyzation, negative mental conditions, and even a death effect. Any such effect applied by an area of effect cannot be so ignored (as it can hit both characters equally).

Gestalt Merge IX

School Transmutation; Level Sorcerer/Wizard 9

This spell functions as Gestalt Merge VIII except that the combined entity increases two size categories, with all appropriate modifiers and penalties for the size change (e.g., two medium creatures become Huge, and gain +16 Strength, -4 Dexterity, +8 Constitution, +5 natural armor, and all reach, increased damage, and size modifiers for a Huge character).

Notes

The most common type of merge is a caster and a physical combatant to gain the most synergy between mystical and martial capabilities, but there are probably many other interesting class synergies. Characters that merge frequently likely develop feats and fighting styles to mesh (e.g., casters taking Arcane Armor Training and Still Spell, warriors choosing gear that is less of an impediment to casting, etc.). The caster of the spell can be one of the characters in the merge, so a duo with a caster that can use the spell is common.

If both of the characters in the merge are player characters, they should tend to alternate who gets to choose what to do in a round, and rolls are made by the “owner” of the effect being used (e.g., the warrior’s player rolls for attacks, the caster’s player rolls for spells). These spells are meant to be slowly rolled out through the course of a campaign, rather than having the previous versions become instantly obsolete every time the PCs gain a spell level. I have no idea whether these are remotely balanced for normal play; they’re only meant to be included if you’re going to tailor your own demonic kaiju to challenge the gestalt characters created by the spell.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Memory Problems

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D&D: Keepsake

“Have I told you about our party Curse? Soon after we started adventuring, we got in a fight with a lich who was way too powerful for us. Instead of just wiping us out, he cursed us. Every time we level we forget everything that happened since we were hit by the curse. We leave lots of notes for ourselves, and we keep trying to track him down and see if he can remove the curse… or at least make him pay for all the grief we’ve suffered.”

  • Game starts at maximum level on the adventure to finally defeat the lich.
  • Each time the party would hit an adventure milestone and level, instead remove a level.
  • Start them back at the previous milestone where new context starts forming.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Meanwhile…

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Fading Suns: The Cauldron Born Legacy

Internal Memo
All Jakovian Department Heads
Strictest Confidence

With the growing inquisitorial and imperial interest in the recent Dryad Labs debacle, it is becoming prudent that we take steps to protect against further blowback. There is a high probability that House Decados proper will disavow us entirely if any more secret operations come to light.

Dr. Grigori’s experiments with shapeshifting metonym spies was promising, but his deliberate and foolhardy experimentation with other, obvious Changed types should have been curtailed earlier. While all the labs involved have been scrubbed, enough information leaked (including several of the experimental subjects) that we may not be able to completely disavow the projects.

We believe there might be enough included in the information that the Cauldron Born project is also implicated. Though it was not directly encountered by the group that exposed Dryad, there were enough research connections that the inquisition or Imperial Eye may eventually catch wind of it.

Therefore, despite the promise inherent in the project of preparing enhanced Decados spies for the coming war, we are canceling the project. All labs will be scrubbed. All non-essential personnel will be scrubbed.

Several of the project’s agents are currently in the field. Fortunately, this crop needs regular chemical supplements to maintain their Changed upgrades. As they report in, we will deal with them. Even if some catch wind of the shuttering of the program, they will be adrift in the Known Worlds, running out of time on their enhancements, and unable to act against us for fear of the inquisition.

Vlad

Serial Numbers Filed Off: The Dregs

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Pendragon: Thrice X’d

Lord Kay, we’ve lost another of the scouts sent to gather intelligence on Mordred’s activities.

Damnit, I told Wart that his men would never even get close. Those turncoats can smell when someone lacks their own stench of dishonor. All we’re doing is wasting good knights and householders.

That may be so, m’lord.

Let’s try something new. I want you to find me the roughest bunch of outcasts you can: forsworn knights, mercenary captains, picts, woodsmen, pagans, and wizards if you can find any. But here’s the thing: they have to be loyal, or at least have something they want desperately that only Arthur can give them, not Mordred.

I must caution against trusting such…

We’re not going to trust them. As much as it pains me, they’re expendable. Their goal is to get in, blend with the other riffraff that the would-be-prince surrounds himself with, and gather intelligence. If they get back with something useful, then there are lands, wives, pardons, or whatever else their grimy little hearts desire. If they don’t… well, at least it won’t have been another loyal knight caught scouting.

Spying, you mean, m’lord?

If the King asks about it, it’s “scouting.” We’re walking a delicate line, here. My foster brother would never allow something like this to proceed if he knew all the particulars, but he also underestimates what a threat his bastard is. We keep this quiet, we keep this deniable, and we get the information that’s going to let us win the inevitable war. Understood?

Yes, m’lord.

Then get to work.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Penned In

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D&D or Dogs in the Vineyard: Cleric

They say that this world was once full of civilization, cities from sea to sea. But that was before the vampires infected the gods just as surely as they’ve infected the land. The scholars say that it started slow, too quietly for even the gods to notice, so that when the war of the heavens began they were evenly matched. At the end, there was one true god left, the Sun, and an unknown number of vampire gods hiding in the shadows, waiting for Him to let His guard down. As above, so below: we live in warded cities, retreating inside the walls at night, because the wilds are full of the ravenous dead.

It’s hard living in the cities. There’s never enough to go around, and the Sun’s chosen do their best to maintain order. A lot of the time it seems too harsh. So some folks take their chances in the wilderness. They set up small stakes, ward their houses and villages as best they can, and try to live free. It’s a dangerous life, but easier on the spirit.

Inevitably, though, something happens. Vampires move in nearby and start picking off the strays. Something far older and worse than vampires wakes up. Someone in town throws morality to the winds and starts jeopardizing the sanctity of the wards. That’s why we have the Clerics.

Men and women blessed by the Sun and given the power to stand against the darkness, they ride forth from the dawn cities to police the boundaries. Each of them wields power to burn and drive back a mob of the dead, and as a group they’re often unstoppable…

At least until the vampires organize behind a clever leader, or one of their own members starts to doubt.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Uncertain Agendas

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Pendragon: Secure Fortress

“Sir Matthew of West Nohaut, I bring news!”

“Please, just Sir Matthew, speak not to me of Nohaut. I pray to claim lands closer to Camelot soon, and, eventually, win a seat at the Table.”

“But your lands are central to that of which I speak. Last night, that vicious blackguard Lord Frost was captured making for Newcastle.”

“Lord Frost the dishonored knight? He that abandoned his seat at the Table to work as a common mercenary across the sea?”

“The very same. He seems to have learned something of dire military import and is trying to smuggle it north of the Wall. We need somewhere loyal to the King to secure him while he is interrogated.”

“I am ever Arthur’s loyal knight, but I will not turn my hand to torture.”

“Worry not, Sir Knight, the wardens that caught him will bear any shame. They merely need a secure place to work…”

“Lord Frost! A score of knights, crests hidden, just besieged my home! The wardens are falling. As my prisoner, it is my duty to protect you.”

“Where was such honor when those men sought to break me? No matter. Have you a wife? Children?”

“None as yet?”

“Good. We must flee. Those are Mordred’s men, and they will slay all in this home but me to hide their deed and seek to uncover my secrets for their own master. Our only hope is to escape. You should go your own way and try to find who sold you out!”

“No. I’ll see you returned to safe imprisonment by those loyal to the crown. To Camelot itself if I must! We will flee, but you remain unarmed and my prisoner.”

“We shall see…”

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Quest Unattainable

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D&D: Wraith Covenant

“A dozen courtiers saw you fleeing from the royal palace after it collapsed.”

“It wasn’t us, Your Grace, we were set up. We were warned that one of the crypts beneath the palace held some kind of undead threat that might be waking up. When we got there, the tomb was already empty… except for the skeletons undermining the whole structure. We barely made it out ourselves!”

“You’ve adventured in my kingdom for years, and I know you’ve grown accustomed to my support… but I can’t give it to you this time. My nearest neighbors think that I sent you to kill them. Four members of the royal family are dead, their palace is destroyed, and their family crypts are collapsed. They’re threatening to go to war…”

“Unless?”

“…unless I disavow you and make an honest attempt to deliver you to them.”

“I see.”

“You’ve done more for this kingdom than anyone else in centuries, but we can’t survive a war with our neighbors. Any members of your guild that weren’t involved can turn themselves over to royal guard custody until this blows over. The rest of you will be branded a splinter group of political dissidents… and hunted.”

“But Your Grace, there’s still an undead threat out there that’s already a step ahead of us. It could threaten all of the kingdoms!”

“And I hope that you’ll be able to stop it. If you can prove the threat, you can clear your names. Your quest, should you choose to accept it, is to save the world despite itself.”

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Unexpected Delving

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D20 Modern/D&D: Dungeon in the Forest

The best kept secret of the modern world is that many of the old legends and fairy tales are true. Terrible creatures lurk in warrens below, their numbers unknown but overwhelming. Were they to attack the people of the surface, it would at the very least ruin the delicate balance of our civilizations and economies, and could result in a final world war that humanity cannot win.

So why don’t they attack us? Somehow these chthonic entities have an implicit code: they would much rather engage in symbolic than actual war with the surface. They want a small band of humans to descend into their tunnels and match might and wits against the warriors and traps of the deep.

Easy enough, right? The nations of the world have no lack of highly-trained soldiers happy to risk their lives for the safety of all. But the implicit code doesn’t allow that. For some reason, the monsters beneath the earth only want to fight those that are truly interested in the adventure, not in the fate of the world. They can somehow detect ringers right away and swarm them in overwhelming numbers. But if a small group finds its way beneath the earth and chooses to keep exploring out of the thrill of the fight and lust for treasure, it all works out. The creatures array themselves into challenging but not overwhelming clusters of foes, and the world is safe as long as this delve lasts.

We’ve even identified several archetypes that work the best: the Fighter, the Cleric, the Mage, and the Thief. Whenever we find a group of four friends who fit those roles, the dungeons are exceptionally peaceful for months after their delves, whether or not they eventually meet a grisly end. It’s especially useful if they start out with hardly any skill at combat whatsoever: the monsters seem to enjoy it when their opponents are clearly learning on the job.

So we started a project to find young men and women that fit these roles, subtly encourage them to vacation near entryways into the netherworld, and build up their confidence enough that they throw caution to the wind and, of their own free will, choose to become treasure seekers and monster slayers. Most of them die, and die quickly. Some of them eventually cut their losses and sell the ancient treasures they’ve unearthed for a leg up on modern life. The greatest find their way into becoming secret weapons of their nation’s elite armed forces. Once you’ve faced down a dragon and won, nothing about the surface world is likely to ever scare you again.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Firegivers

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ASoIaF RPG: Dangerous Archaeology

I’ll tell you one thing about the war of however many kings there are this week: it’s the perfect setting for a lot of off-the-books excavation. Most of the time, the lords take a dim view of strangers wandering around old ruins that happen to be on their land with a bunch of sturdy men with shovels. These days, Winter is Coming if you believe the Starks. Hard not to, with what we’ve seen. The lords have bigger problems, and the brigands tend to go after easier prey. A band just big enough to be dangerous but just small enough to hide can wander far unmolested.

In the past few months we’ve made half a dozen digs. We’ll show those jerks at the Citadel that wouldn’t let us finish our chains who was right after all. All of this is pointing to a bigger picture than those hidebound relics would ever believe. The seasons. The red star. The children of the forest. All of it will be explained once we breach the secret tomb of the First Men. What secrets we’ll learn about our history!

What we weren’t expecting to find was a sheet of ice blocking the entrance. Sure, it’s far enough underground that it could conceivably stay solid even in Summer, but it seems worked. One of our Northmen said it looked a lot like the Wall before he swore us off and left. Superstitious tree-worshipper. He won’t have his name added to the books they’ll write about our discoveries.

Tomorrow we take our small band and we cut through the barrier. Tomorrow, we’ll be the first for thousands of years to see the original works of our ancestors. Tomorrow, we’ll learn so much…

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Bad Neighbors

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CthuluTech: Scare Where

Dude, your next door neighbor is a Dhohanoid.

Those are myths, man. Everyone’s just pissed at the Chrysalis Corp because they overcharge on stuff. They’re not secretly run by monsters.

Really? A high ranking Chrysalis Corp executive moves in next door to you, people start to go missing, and he’s obviously renovating his apartment into a fortress. He’s clearly up to some shit.

This is the New Vegas arcology. There’s a giant rift to who knows where thirty miles south of us. People are going to go missing. They probably went outside and got eaten by a monster. We’ve still got gene scans to get inside. Occam’s Razor.

Sure, they slapped this thing up as an evacuation center when the rift opened and it ballooned into a full arcology in six months. You think they didn’t leave holes in the security? Look, I know this guy, Peter Vincent.

The guy who stars in the Migou Fighting Action Hour show?

That’s just his cover. He’s a member of the Eldritch Society.

Myth.

They’re not a myth. My cousin in Atlanta got saved from a bunch of cultists and monsters by a freaky other monster that didn’t eat him. It’s the worst kept conspiracy in the world. Monster superheroes.

I’m not going to go break into the studio wing, tell a local celebrity that I think he’s a shapeshifting vigilante, and ask him to deal with my neighbor just because a crazy guy claims he’s a Dhohanoid.

Your funeral, then. Better hope he doesn’t come after your girlfriend or your mom…

 

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