Eclipse – Building d20 Psychics, Part I

   Building a psychic character in Eclipse requires some decisions. Perhaps most the important is the answer to a simple question – where does the power come from? The answer to that question will tell us a lot about what kind of powers he or she will have and how they’re likely to be used. Some of the major options include:

   From the user’s personal physical reserves. His or her psychic powers will be relatively weak, but probably very versatile and fairly subtle, just like using your hands can be. Use the Witchcraft system, this is the kind of character it’s designed for.

   From some untapped well of mental energy, whether you call it Ki, Power, Rage, or what-have-you. Now, if the mind has that kind of power bottled up in it, but most creatures don’t use it, there must be a good reason for that – probably that it’s very dangerous to try and tap into it. Rigid controls are in order, such as the lists of specific powers to be found in various 3.0 and 3.5 sourcebooks or the system reference document. Psychics using this system should probably just use the basic psychic Spellcasting Progressions and power lists.

   From external sources. In this case, while minor and well-practiced effects may be “free”, most systems indicate that strain and fatigue will catch up with the user eventually – again, limiting how much he or she may manipulate reality in any limited period of time. (In some “superheroic” worlds such forces are so easy to tap that fairly potent effects can be used for “free” – but this isn’t the usual default). Still, the more skilled the user is at manipulating such energies, the more effects he or she will be able to use them for. Psychics who want abilities like this should use the Dweomer rules under Thaumaturgy and Dweomer, page 100, probably with Mana and Rite of Chi with Bonus Uses to allow it to be recovered more quickly.

   From some near-limitless internal well of power. In this case the Path of the Dragon will work best – but the ability to do whatever you want without limit is impossibly expensive to buy and very dull to play, ergo psychics using this route are usually built with a very limited set of powers. They also often never – or at least rarely – reach truly high-powered effects. For those occasions when it’s dramatically appropriate, they may want to buy Mana with the Spell Enhancement option.

   From some slowly-building reserve hidden in the unconscious mind. Such psychics can often do almost anything – although they often suffer from control problems or must tap into their powers via ritual – but they can’t do it very often. Such characters may want to use the Hexcraft system.

   From some obliging force that simply does things for them. Such psychics rarely have any limits on the use of their abilities, although they’re usually only able to tap into a modest selection of fairly minor talents. Such characters are usually best built using Innate Enchantment or Siddhisyoga – possibly Specialized or Corrupted if their powers are erratic or otherwise limited.

   Are they simply dabblers, with a few specialized, independent, themes and relatively limited use of their powers? Such characters fit well into horror and modern games, where their abilities are interesting, but more rarely used than in the typical dungeon crawl or high-fantasy adventure. Such characters are usually best built using Runecraft and Mana, possibly with Rite of Chi and Bonus Uses to allow them to recover more quickly.

   I’ll be putting up a few sample level one psychic builds over the next few days.

   For a note of caution, there are numerous systems for manipulating reality in game settings – whether they call that ability magic, psionics, or by any of a hundred other names – which attempt to limit that ability by having it inflict either fatigue or some form of lethal or nonlethal damage. You find systems like that in Shadowrun, Deadlands, Green Ronin’s Psychic’s Handbook, our own Legends of High Fantasy, and many other settings. The usual arguments are that it is more like how magic and psionic abilities are portrayed in many stories, and is “more realistic” in showing the effects of channeling such energies or expending personal energies.

   The trouble with that kind of system in d20 is pretty simple; the basic rules make recovery from damage – especially nonlethal damage – quick and easy. Unless you rule that voluntary damage from using special powers cannot be recovered by extraordinary means – as Eclipse does with the Body Fuel ability – this means that a character with a relevant form of fast healing, access to clerical magic, or even a wand of Cure Light Wounds can turn it into a near-limitless font of power. There’s a partial discussion of that here on the site already – Liam Ko, a complicated sample character conversion, exists partly to demonstrate the problems with such systems (you can find his background HERE and the rest of the conversion HERE). Such systems may work very nicely if all the other characters have access to similar near-endless fonts of technological or inherent power, as they do in – for example – Shadowrun, but often cause problems otherwise.

   For an example of a minor exploit for such systems, we’ll turn to Green Ronin’s Psychic’s Handbook. (It’s a good book, but there’s always something which can be exploited in ANY sourcebook).

   Take Psychic Healing and – for conveniences sake – a first level wild talent with a +3 wisdom modifier or some other method of getting a +3 total bonus on wisdom-based skill checks. (Why? Because it makes our math easier; it gives our wild talent an effective skill of +5 at a cost of four skill points, since Psychic Healing will probably be a cross-class skill for a wild talent).

   So; once per hour per target, including him- or her-self, our wild talent can take one point of nonlethal damage and “take 10” on the skill roll to heal 1d4+1 points of damage. Of course, nonlethal damage goes away at one point per hour per level automatically and – when you heal normal damage – you automatically heal the same amount of nonlethal damage.

   Ergo, our first level character has paid one feat and four skill points for the ability to heal himself or herself and 1d4+1 other people of 1d4+1 points of normal damage each per hour without having to roll. OK, that’s only 3.5 points per hour per person, and an average of 4.5 people being treated – but that means that a half-days allotment of healing is an average of 42 points per party member (or 147 points spread over – say – the other members of a small town or military detachment), which is a pretty handy thing to buy for one feat and four skill points. It isn’t the worst power or quick feat-and-skill combination out there by a long ways, but it is a pretty convenient thing for a first-level warrior, rogue, or mage-type to pick up.

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Eclipse – Reserve Feats

   First up we have another request: a gamer who wants to know how to build Reserve Feats in the Eclipse: the Codex Persona Classless d20 rules(available in print HERE and in a shareware .pdf version HERE). That’s actually pretty simple, so it’s going up right away.

   Reserve Feats allow a spellcaster who currently has a prepared spell of second level or higher available to use a minor supernatural sub-effect related to that spell as often as they wish and to have a really minor (typically +1 caster level with a particular type of magic) benefit regardless of whether or not he or she has such a spell available. Of course, this is fairly meaningless as a restriction; if you don’t have such a spell available, you won’t be casting it will you? The only way that most spellcasters might “lose” this benefit is by having a first-level spell or two of that type left over after having used up the higher-level spells appropriate to powering their Reserve Feat – and why would anyone have bothered preparing many of those when they have the Reserve Feat to give them limitless access to low-level effects?

   In Eclipse, you can most easily buy this as Path of the Dragon/Shaping, Specialized for increased effect/can only be used to produce a selection of – say – (Casting Attribute Modifier +2, 2 minimum) effects, and Corrupted for increased effect/the effects only work as long as the user has a related spell of at least level two prepared (6 CP). That will allow the Shaping ability to produce effects of up to level one. Ergo, if you want to be able to use some minor fire effects – such as some resistance to fire, the ability to project flames (as per burning hands or produce flame or some such), or a boost to the effective casting level of fire spells as long as you have a higher-level fire-based spell prepared, this works just fine. If you want to use effects related to several kinds of spells, such as electrical, force, and healing spells, just split up that (Casting Attribute +2, 2 Minimum) allotment of effects among those types, and there you are. This version is also self-limiting on effects like Healing spells, since the Path of the Dragon (under Heart of the Dragon), notes that cumulative effects such as healing spells lose potency after 2d6 applications to any one target in a given day. Of course, this version does offer a greater variety of effects than the original Feats, a free choice of effects, and effects related to more than one type of spell. That’s mostly because this is a general effect; it’s a waste of time to come up with a hundred specialized variant feats instead of letting players build their own – and that’s what Eclipse is all about anyway.

   If you want to upgrade to higher-level effects this gets a bit more complicated, since the Path of the Dragon rapidly becomes more expensive as you continue along it. On the other hand, unlimited use of – say Scorching Ray as long as you have a third level or higher fire spell prepared – or perhaps Fireball as long as you have a fourth level or higher fire spell prepared – really ought to be more expensive.

   For that kind of thing you’ll need to buy Shaping, Pulse of the Dragon, and Heart of the Dragon II (up to level one effects), Specialized/can only be used to produce a selection of – say – (Casting Attribute Modifier +2, 2 minimum) effects, Corrupted/only works as long as the user has a related higher-level spell of at least one level higher than the level of the effect being produced prepared. That’s 10 CP for level one effects (both Specialized and Corrupted for reduced cost), 20 CP for level two effects (Specialized for increased effect and Corrupted for reduced cost), and 30 CP for level three effects (both Specialized and Corrupted for increased effect). Going further than that is REALLY expensive – but unlimited use of five or six third level effects really ought to be enough for most characters anyway.