Spoiler: The Bridge
Richard gave the brush a practiced twirl. The bristles curled around the motion, completing a black whirl on the blue pauldron. It wasn’t a perfect reversal of the whirl on the right side; the squirrel-hair bristles hadn’t even been good new. And Richard wasn’t good, neither. He’d never had a teacher, just books, and books without pictures at that.
Besides, Richard had to work fast.
“Rick!” hissed a voice through the doorway. “You in there again? M’lord’s on his way! The gnolls are through the pass!”
Richard backed up to survey his work. The breastplate bore the sigil of house Midvane, a river - a stream, morelike - under stars. He’d extended the blues and whites across a simple black matte he’d done his best to layer into the pitted metal, with the stream running around one back to be swallowed by the Midvane cloak, and the starfield expanding out across the chest and shoulders in an awe-inspiring depiction of the infinity of the gods.
Nothing looked quite how Richard wanted. The smears, the off-whites, the blobs around the gorget. It was a failure of tools, and of supplies, and time. Skill too. But maybe it was good enough; certainly better than the muddy mural his lord the old Baron had commissioned years afore Richard was even born.
And complaining wouldn’t do anything. Like or not, this was Richard’s opus. His greatest and final work before he died.
He jumped through the window, leaving his brushes and paints. He’d have no further use for them.
They formed up in the town square, the seventy that remained. The rest had left, those as could. Merchants, aristocrats, the wealthier businessmen. Them with horses, mostly, except for Baron Midvane, who would never leave his people. The town’s lord, knight, and protector. The Midvanes had ruled the river crossing since it had been weeks from any border, years and ages ago. Maybe that was why the town had no walls. But here they were now, ready to make the gnolls pay with blood. Richard’s hands tightened around his spear. Meech the smith had cut the handle down so it wasn’t taller than him.
The baron surveyed his troops. The paltry town guard; the farms and townsfolk, mostly the older, and younger, and weaker; and his servants, Richard among them. He’d known the risks when he’d asked for the position, but he couldn’t very well learn to paint tending his uncle’s crops.
The Baron hadn’t said a word to him, or even glanced his way. But Richard wanted to believe he was standing up straighter with his symbol shining across his chest.
“First line, form up across the river,” the Baron shouted. He’d been trained in war, once. “Retreat across the bridge after their lines make contact.” He swung his legs onto his horse with stable boy Adam’s help and led the way to the crossing. The town followed, most stopping before the bridge. The time for running had passed. Gnolls were faster than unmounted men, and there was no hiding from their trackers. The men braced their line against the old stone guardhouse past the river, forced laughter and tension drifting back to Richard’s ears.
The gnolls were visible, a wave of them cresting a hill a few miles away. Fifty? A hundred? More? It was hard to tell at this distance. Richard moved to the edge of the silent crowd to get a better look. He couldn’t see the gnolls very well, but he could still imagine them, their red fur between the green hills blue sky. The image was striking. It should hang in an armory somewhere.
That was why they had to win. If Richard died, that image would be lost.
“Excuse me,” said a voice to Richard’s left. “Is there a reason this bridge is so crowded?”
Richard turned to find a cloaked elderly man atop a horse. No, not a horse. It shared a horse’s general shape and color, but looking more closely, it was made of paint. The horse’s mane was scumbled, and the rest of its hair was impressed with a flat brush of some kind. It stared at Richard with one giant disinterested eye, highlights imperfectly blended.
The man on the horse, white hair poking out of his hood, was still waiting for an answer. “Gnolls, M’Lord,” Richard stammered. “Coming.”
The man nodded and nudged his painted-horse-thing into a trot. The nearby villagers took notice and gave way, leading others to do the same. The man walked his horse down the path the crowd opened for him and out onto the bridge.
The town guard took note as he neared the other side. They turned back and some shouted, but a wave of the man’s hand silenced them. Baron Midvane rode closer but pulled back on his reins when he was close enough to study the man’s horse.
That horse. What was it? Did the man make it? Did he paint it?
He rode through the line of guards up to the top of the closest low hill and dismounted. From his horse’s pack he pulled...
He pulled out an easel.
Richard pushed his way through the crowd to the bridge. By the time he made it, the man — the painter — was all set up, with a canvas on his easel and a brush in his hand. Curiously, he had a stack of other canvasses of varying sizes propped up against the bottom of his easel. How much painting was he planning to do? And where were his paints themselves?
Richard could hear the gnolls now, a rumble and a shout on the wind. What did the painter plan to do about them?
The painter threw his brush across his canvas, and a picture began to form. It was painted, somehow, but the paint seem to come out of the brush as it moved, a scintillating rainbow that hardened into blocks of color as it hit the canvas. Reds, oranges, yellows... all fading into blue at the edges, with a green strip along the bottom, but with empty canvas still visible in a vertical column at the center. Then the painter flicked his wrist upwards to color in the last missing strip, finishing a painting of a ball of light overhanging fields in a summer afternoon sky. Following his motion, a ball of light shot up from his canvas. Its light prickled Richard’s skin even as it drifted forward, away from the town and towards the gnolls.
The gnolls, their shouts louder now, crested a closer hill and let loose a barrage of arrows. The painter turned around and waved his brush towards the guards in front of the bridge, in an instant pulling a stone wall from the side of the guardhouse and stretching it in front of their lines. Richard dashed around the side of the guardhouse for a better view, the baron noticing him just as he passed and reaching down to stop him. Richard let go of the spear when the baron grabbed it and rounded the guardhouse to see the painter still hard at work.
He was wearing armor now, a suit of armor far too large to have been hidden in one of his saddlebags, and far too complex to have been put on in mere seconds. As arrows clattered off the armor, his horse galloped out in front of him. The painter finished the final touches on a new painting, flat sable depicting a pile of plants, and his horse transformed as it galloped, crashing into the gnoll lines with a flurry of vines lashing out at half a dozen targets at once. Richard crested the man’s hill, the better to see the painting. Live or die — and such a decision would surely be decided here, not with the baron at the bridge — this was what he’d want to see as it happened.
The artist wasn’t done, but he’d begun to skip his canvas, drawing more and more directly onto the air. Stippled reds and yellows became a ball of fire, flung at a group of approaching gnolls. A fireball on its way back, flung from an unarmed gnoll before the vine creature grabbed it, fizzled out feet before hitting the easel. Wet-blended greens and browns formed another beast when his vines were hacked to pieces, this one an angry giant with a mace fused to its right hand.
One gnoll got past the giant, so close Richard could smell his breath. The painter reached a hand out and waved, the image of a skull appearing in its wake. The gnoll yipped and ran.
And then there was nothing. He waved a hand at the sky and his ball of light erased itself, ceding dominance to the sun. Then he picked up his unused canvasses and his giant lumbered past gnoll bodies to pick up the saddlebags that had been tangled up in the vine creature. Half a dozen gnolls in various states of injury were making good time back to the pass. The painter ran a hand across his body and the armor vanished. From this close, the brush strokes on it were clear.
“Sir mage.” Baron Midvane eased his horse to a stop in front of the easel. “I can’t thank you—”
“Stop,” the man commanded, and the Baron did. Then the man pointed at Richard. “Speak.”
“Can I come with you?” Richard found himself asking.
The man paused for a second, then selected his smallest canvas and fitted it to the easel. His giant returned with his bags. He pulled out a few vials of paints and a brush, then placed them into Richard’s hands.
“Paintings traditionally do one of two things: They depict the world as it is, or depict the world how it could be. Many of those who paint the world as it could be seek to use their art to influence the world and make itself into reality.
This is that. But faster.”
— Gowad Zubin, Photorealist
The photorealist is an artist. He creates. He can create in proasic ways, through paints and brushes, wood, lathes, and the ache in his muscles after the day is out. Such work can be rewarding, meaningful, and permanent.
His magic is temporary, but if used correctly, its changes are permanent as well. It is a lesson taught many aspiring artists that they must let their art go into the world and come what may, keep creating instead of growing too attached. The photorealist learns this lesson every day. Art is a lens through which we view, and change, our own lives and the lives of others around us.
Making a Photorealist
A photorealist is a mage whose specific complement of powers depends on his genre(s) of choice. He can do a little bit of everything, or be very good at a few things.
Abilities: All abilities are important to a photorealist, with each ability required to get the most out of a different artistic genre. His strengths and weaknesses here inform how he will build his character’s portfolio, and what he does in combat. However, all photorealists will prize dexterity and constitution, for keeping them alive, as well as intelligence and wisdom, for helping them with crafts and professions that keep them going.
Races: Photorealists are common among humans, elves, and gnomes. Humans, because they try anything. Elvish dilettantes will spend decades honing a profession or a craft until magic is the next logical step. Gnomes just make stuff and find that being a photorealist can help them make more, cooler stuff.
Alignment: Photorealists can be any alignment, with their artistic sensibilities parallelling their morals. Lawful photorealists like creation as a process for bringing order from chaos, while chaotic photorealists view painting as a process of growth and change. More photorealists are good than evil: Many skills in art require, or develop, empathy.
Starting Gold: 3D4x10 (75 GP).
Starting Age: As Bard.
Hit Die: D6.
Table: The Photorealist
Class Skills (4 + Int modifier per level, x4 at 1st level): Appraise, Concentration, Craft, Decipher Script, Diplomacy, Disable Device, Disguise, Forgery, Gather Information, Heal, Hide, Knowledge (All), Listen, Open Lock, Perform, Profession, Search, Sense Motive, Sleight of Hand, Speak Language, Spellcraft, Spot, Tumble, Use Magic Device, Use Rope.
Level BAB Fort Ref Will Portfolio Colors Special 1st +0 +0 +0 +2 2 4 Painting, Passion Project, Trapfinding 2nd +1 +0 +0 +3 3 9 Craftsman's Eye 3rd +1 +1 +1 +3 4 15 Expert 4th +2 +1 +1 +4 5 22 Specialty 5th +2 +1 +1 +4 6 30 Novice Paintings 6th +3 +2 +2 +5 7 39 Craftsman's Soul 7th +3 +2 +2 +5 8 49 Craft Versatility 1/Day 8th +4 +2 +2 +6 9 60 Imbue Item 9th +4 +3 +3 +6 10 72 Apprentice Paintings 10th +5 +3 +3 +7 11 85 Second Specialty 11th +5 +3 +3 +7 12 99 Extra Paints (60 Minutes) 12th +6 +4 +4 +8 13 114 Craft Versatility 2/Day 13th +6 +4 +4 +8 14 130 Journeyman Paintings 14th +7 +4 +4 +9 15 147 Bonus Creation Feat 15th +7 +5 +5 +9 16 165 Extra Paints (30 Minutes) 16th +8 +5 +5 +10 17 184 Third Specialty 17th +8 +5 +5 +10 18 204 Masterpiece Paintings 18th +9 +6 +6 +11 19 225 Craft Versatility 3/Day 19th +9 +6 +6 +11 20 247 Extra Paints (10 Minutes) 20th +10 +6 +6 +12 21 270 Gray Portrait
A photorealist’s main assets in combat are his paintings, which change the world around him as long as he uses enough colors of paint. Outside of combat, he has many ways to use his crafts and professions to get what he wants done, especially if what he wants is to make a living.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: A photorealist is proficient in simple weapons and light armor. However, he faces some problems with all armor except for the lightest, as explained below.
Painting (Sp): A photorealist’s defining abilities are his paintings. By combining one or more colors of magical paint into a composition, a photorealist has the ability to breathe truth and reality into his pieces, achieving effect similar to those of spells. Creation is a beautiful thing, a whirling blend of art and magecraft with elements unique to each artist. Some slather their paint onto a two-dimensional plane before animation; others prefer to paint in 3D. Not all model their magic directly on painting: Others might sculpt, build, or even place their painting’s effects into the world directly. Those that do so may feel free to refer to their class features using different terminology.
A photorealist’s artist level is equal to his class level. By default, painting a painting is a standard action. Paintings with durations last 1 minute per artist level unless stated otherwise. The most expansive color scheme (the total colors of paint) a photorealist can use in a single painting is also equal to his artist level. A photorealist has a caster level equal to his artist level, which is used for spell-like abilities he learns as well as other uses. All painting saving throws are equal to 10 + 1/2 the painting’s color scheme + the key ability modifier for that painting’s genre. Every painting that targets can be resisted with spell resistance, using Artist level as caster level. A painting’s effective spell level is equal to half its color scheme. Erasing an active painting is a standard action.
All paintings have somatic components. A photorealist can ignore the first 10% of arcane spell failure he suffers. Thereafter, he may reduce his spell failure by using more paint to hit all of the right areas and cover his mistakes. Each additional color he uses reduces his spell failure by an additional 10%, although this does not let him exceed his color scheme.
All paintings also have focus components. A photorealist uses brushes to paint. Most also carry an easel, although it’s too cumbersome to set up during combat. Painting while distracted or under attack requires concentration checks (and can be performed defensively, like casting). No painting stacks with itself. Overlaying a new painting on top of a previous version of the same painting will overwrite the old one.
Color Palette: A photorealist’s magical abilities are channeled through magical paints. Each photorealist has a certain number of colors he can use per day in his paintings, indicated on Table: The Photorealist. The fewer the colors used in a painting, the more obviously unreal the creation appears; anybody can tell that the object is magical in nature with a spot check, DC 5 + colors used. A photorealist may always choose to add more colors than a painting calls for, so long as he does not exceed his maximum color scheme. He must rest for 8 hours to refill his palette, like a spellcaster.
Sketch paintings require 1 color, while novice paintings require 4 colors, apprentice paintings require 7 colors, journeyman paintings require 10 colors, and masterpiece paintings require 13 colors. Every painting can be enhanced by using its style’s technique, or by adding flourishes, which are detailed in the painting description.
Portfolio: A photorealist begins play knowing two sketch paintings and/or techniques. Each level, a photorealist learns a single painting or style technique. He may use known paintings and techniques as many times per day as he has colors to use them. He may learn sketch paintings at first level, novice paintings starting at 5th level, apprentice paintings starting at 9th level, journeyman paintings at 13th level, masterpiece paintings starting at 17th level.
At 5th, 9th, 13th and 17th levels, in addition to learning a new painting or technique, he may also swap a known painting for another painting within the same tier.
Passion Project (Ex): Photorealists are driven by the act of creation. Although they must devote the majority of their time to magic, the visual arts, and the melding thereof, they always have other pursuits. This pursuit is often related to his primary skills as an artist, although it is not required that it be.
At first level, a photorealist chooses a single craft or profession skill. He automatically gains 1 rank in that skill, and gains an additional rank in it every time he gains another photorealist level. These ranks can never put him over his normal maximum skill ranks.
Trapfinding (Ex): A first level photorealist understands how things are put together. He may detect traps with DCs greater than 20.
Craftsman’s Eye (Ex): A second level photorealist understands materials, effort, and craftsmanship that goes into objects of all manufactures. He can appraise any nonmagical item as a free action, besides natural items like unworked gems. In addition, whenever he passes within 5 feet of a secret door, he may make a free search check as though actively looking for it. If he already his this ability, its range increases by 5 feet.
Expert (Su): A third level photorealist can use small amounts of magic to enhance his mundane skills. Whenever he makes a craft or profession check to earn a living, the amount of money he makes is doubled. In addition, he crafts mundane and alchemical items twice as fast.
Specialty: Although photorealists are by their nature dabblers, it’s inevitable that an artist will find a form that speaks to him. Through practice, photorealists can train themselves to paint in certain styles with a minimum of effort.
At fourth level, a photorealist chooses a single painting style. Paintings he paints in this style use 1 fewer color from his palette, to a minimum of 0. A painting that consumes fewer colors is indistinguishable from a painting painted normally; the photorealist simply employs a lighter touch with his brush in order to conserve resources.
At 10th level, a photorealist gains another specialty. He may gain the same benefit for a second style or use both of his specialties in a single style. A style with dual specialty uses up to 2 fewer colors for flourishes with each painting.
At 16th level, a photorealist gains a third specialty, which can be used in any style. A style with triple specialty uses up to 3 fewer colors on its style technique.
Craftsman’s Soul (Su): A sixth level photorealist can use Detect Magic at will. By handling an examining a magical item for one minute, he may Identify it.
Craft Versatility (Su): A seventh level photorealist has learned to get very creative with his crafting. Once per day, when making a skill check, he may substitute a craft or profession check for any other skill. He must be able to justify this somehow: For instance, crafting pads to place on his shoes for move silently, or learning to bluff from his job as a high-pressure salesman. The DM is the final arbiter of what is allowed, but allowances should be lenient, as the ability is supernatural. This substitution does not change the time required for the check.
He may use Craft Versatility twice per day at twelfth level and three times per day at seventeenth level.
Imbue Item (Su): An eighth level photorealist can craft magical items without knowing the prerequisite spells. He must substitute those spells with a painted representation, using colors equal to twice the spell level, and such paintings must be within his maximum color scheme.
Extra Paints (Ex): An eleventh level photorealist regains 1 color of paint per hour, up to his maximum color palette. At 14th level, this doubles to 1 every thirty minutes. At 17th level, he regains paints at a speed of 1 every ten minutes.
Bonus Crafting Feat: A thirteenth level photorealist gains a bonus feat. He may select any artist feat, any item creation feat for which he qualifies, or skill focus for any craft or profession skill.
Gray Portrait: By spending 24 hours on a painting over three or more days, spending no more than eight hours per day, a 20th level photorealist can paint a painting containing his own life-force. So long as the painting is intact, he can’t be killed or knocked unconscious based on his hit point total. In addition, should he be killed in another fashion, he may climb out of the portrait over the course of one day, destroying it but returning himself to life with no loss of level.
However, the portrait has downsides. Creating it takes 5000 XP and 5000 GP in materials. The portrait has 20 HP and hardness 1. Should it be destroyed in any way while the artist is alive, he immediately loses 5000 additional XP.