One problem with allowing the players to manipulate the narrative and environment of the game is that not all the players are going to be interested in that. Some of them just want to explore life in a fantastic world, some just want to get into interesting set-piece battles, some want to solve puzzle-situations, and some simply aren’t interested in adding background elements and plot twists to the game. Worse, the players who aren’t interested in manipulating the narrative and the environment may well see attempts to do so as a from of cheating.
Perhaps even worse, this sort of thing can easily get out of control. If a fast-talking player dominates all the plots and action in the game, single-handedly brings back the major villain that everyone else just barely managed to heroically bring down after mighty sacrifices, gets the other characters into gratuitous trouble, or keeps using his or her narrative privileges to neutralize or avoid the situations that other players find fun but he or she doesn’t, the other players will be – quite rightly – resentful.
Ergo, such abilities need to have some form of limited game-mechanic implementation. To make sure that the players perceive the use of such abilities as “fair”, there needs to be some form of in-game reward for not using those mechanics. Both are a little awkward, since most such mechanics are things that work on the player-level, rather than in the game world.
It’s manageable though. First up, the easiest cost is an opportunity cost; characters with narrative powers simply don’t get as many other abilities as the other characters do. In games with consensual or readily-manipulable realities, they may simply invested their efforts in learning to control whatever forces govern such things. In less-amenable settings, the characters are simply inherently absurdly fortunate or have some mysterious force easing their lives – and thus haven’t developed their other abilities as far as characters who have been harder-pressed.
Since Eclipse is a point-buy system, and the special effects are more of less up to you, you can simply build a power so that it operates the way you want. The opportunity cost is built-in; if you spend your character points buying narrative abilities, you won’t have them to spend on other things.
Lets say you want the ability to strike a blow that does a great deal of damage and throws in some special effect every so often. Call it “Devastating Blow”. The narrative approach might be to make this a “per-encounter” power. At some moment during each fight scene – as chosen by the player – the character will find himself or herself in position to strike a mighty blow. Why once per encounter? Mechanically it’s simply because that’s the way you bought the power. In terms of the game world you might have some odd mystic power that’s regained slowly, enjoy the fickle favor some god who only helps you out every so often, be able to slowly charge your weapon with energy, or perhaps you’re simply bloody lucky at unpredictable (in the game world) intervals, but always once per fight. It probably doesn’t have much of anything to do with “skill” though, and may or may not be something that the character controls. After all, the character – not knowing anything about the story – might want to use his or her Devastating Blow right away, while the player – sure that the “big boss” will appear before the end of the battle – wants to save it for then.
Another character might impose different conditions, or – if they’re willing to spend a lot of character points – none at all. Perhaps he or she can strike a “Devastating Blow” if he or she can manage to maneuver into an opponents blind spot and can make some sort of knowledge check to see if he or she knows of an especially vulnerable spot within reach. Perhaps it works when he or she focuses on calling forth their inner rage, a difficult and exhausting thing. Perhaps the opponent must make some sort of mistake, or miss three times in a row. Perhaps they just spent a LOT of character points and simply inflict massive damage with every blow due to their incredible skill. Perhaps they must loudly announce some specific misdeed of their targets and strike while filled with righteous fury. There are a hundred approaches to this kind of thing.
So what are some of the best powers to buy to get some narrative control in Eclipse? The biggest two are Action Hero and Mana with the Reality Editing option.
With Action Hero you get a limited reserve of “Action Points” which you can spend to pull off incredible things. You get one option each time you buy Action Hero.
Heroism lets you spend them to pull off unlikely feats. In a lot of ways it’s the “soft” option.
Stunt lets you spend them to buy once-off abilities – manifesting a unique spell (Inherent Spell), shrugging off that mind-control effect (Immunity), automatically making that saving throw (Luck), outrunning that explosion (Celerity, Immunity, or Inherent Spell), or many other things. Want to have a flashback where the ancient master showed you how to deal with something? To pull off something so flashy that the enemies have to make will saves or fall back (Presence)? To inspire your men (Presence or Mystic Artist/Oratory)? Want to find great power in a surge of emotion (Berserker)? Then Stunt is the ability for you.
Crafting lets you simply announce that “you’ve been working on” some project, and it is now ready to unveil.
Invention lets you have brilliant insights, create new things, and spread your inventions across the world.
Influence lets you alter large-scale events, such as wars and politics.
Each version of Action Hero you take costs 6 CP – so lets say have our character take two, for a total of 12 CP. That will let the player get away with the occasional piece of narrative or special stunt without having it dominate the game.
Reality Editing lets you make direct and immediate changes in the setting. You want the local Evil Overlord’s “beautiful” (I guarantee that, under those circumstances, she’ll probably look pretty good unless she’s downright hag-like) daughter to fall in love with you and help you escape? You want to abruptly recall an old friend in who now lives in the town nearby who can help you out? You want a guard to owe you a favor? Want to “just happen to have” a vial of deadly poison in your pocket? You want a mystic conjunction to be coming up tomorrow? Just want a miraculous escape from a nasty situation? Want a brawl to break out for no real reason whatsoever? Want to arrive – or have reinforcements arrive – at the very nick of time? Feel like being mistaken for some locally-important figure? Want the situation to involve and old friend of yours, giving you a personal stake in it? Want to have to divert the confrontation into dealing with some natural disaster? You want Reality Editing.
So; 3d6 Mana with the Reality Editing option plus Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses. Specialized and Corrupted/both normal mana recovery and uses of the Rite of Chi are per session rather than per day, only relatively subtle changes are allowed, changes may result in backlash or other complications (for example, having a guard be an old friend who helps you escape may lead to being stuck caring for his family when he’s killed in the process, fouling up the Dark Emperors main plan with Reality Editing will probably just lead to him revealing a backup plan, and so on. It’s best to look for critical points to try to turn the plot). The Rite of Chi activates – restoring 1d6 points of mana – whenever the character a) comes up with a plot twist or change that the GM thinks is truly appropriate, b) comes up with a plot twist or change that everyone else playing thinks is really cool, c) gets railroaded by the GM without a chance to make his or her own decision (Last week you were discussing what to do next since you’d just completed your last big mission. Since then it’s been a week, and all of you have been stripped of your items and your powers neutralized, and you’re being hauled before the judge…”, or d) the character uses his or her powers to introduce complications for him or herself WITHOUT messing up the rest of the party. (10 CP).
That’s 22 CP so far – and to keep this as a +1 ECL template, we’ll want a total of 32 CP. That only leaves us 10 CP to go. To keep this simple, I’ll take the Chinese menu approach; pick one from column A and one from column B.
Other powers are a lot more limited, but are better for things that you want to be able to do on a regular basis. While there are an endless array of special powers you can build in Eclipse, here are a few to get you started:
“Column A” powers:
You want to have some special enemies? Does your rage, or thirst for vengeance, or oath grant you extra bonuses against such foes? Take Favored Enemy or Favored Foe (6 CP).
You want to be able to swear a mighty oath, and have it influence events and grant special bonuses to you while you’re working on fulfilling it? Inherent Spell/Oath of Endurance (a.k.a Malediction from The Practical Enchanter), Specialized/Only usable on yourself, Corrupted/only intervenes seven times, for a level nine base effect. You may swear to complete a specified immediate task, such as holding a bridge, keeping a ship on course through a hurricane, or completing a ritual, so long as the task will take a month or less to complete. For the duration you will need no food, drink, or sleep and will be assisted by a level four or less spell effect of the GM’s choice up to seven times – possibly including turning you into an undead if that seems required. You can only be sworn to a single task at a time and renouncing an uncompleted oath will cause the remaining spell effects to cause trouble for you at the worst possible times and keep you from swearing another oath for a year and a day – or until you undergo some suitable ritual ordeal of atonement and purification.
You want to occasionally have some item you use acquire special powers or get an upgrade thanks to your using it in the performance of Heroic Deeds? Buy Create Relic, Specialized/only works on items you are currently performing mighty deeds with and – to start with – set aside another three CP to pay for those relics, thus arriving at a total cost of (6 CP).
You want the power of the fated moment and the strength of your good deeds (or your unrepentant evil) to come to your aid occasionally? Take Karma (6 CP).
“Column B” powers:
You want to be able to have the action pause while you make a dramatic speech or attempt some form of negotiation? Take Reflex Training/three extra actions per day variant, specialized in Communications for Increased Effect (you get to make a full speech) and Corrupted/uses are per-game rather than per day, to avoid driving everyone nuts (4 CP).
You want to have some small special bonuses that only work when you’re in pursuit of some personal goal, strong motivation, or declared personal enmity? Buy Innate Enchantment and pick your own set of first-level effects which turn on to help you out under those circumstances, Corrupted/only works at times when you’re in pursuit of a powerful personal goal (4 CP).
You want to occasionally be given glimpses behind the scenes, at things that are going on far away? Buy a Major Privilege/the user, and possibly the group that he or she is with, occasionally gets to hear about or “see” cut scenes. Corrupted/this costs 2 Mana to activate and only works if the GM agrees to let it – although the game master may decide to have it activate spontaneously without cost (4 CP).
Note that, in cases where the “cut scene” is only important to the character personally – such as, say, a scene where the character’s spouse is praying for his safety or fleeing the invading army with the children – the player can simply spend a point of mana and describe what’s going on him- or her-self.
OK; the Action Hero abilities, the Reality Editing powers, and a pair of lesser narrative abilities come out to a total of 32 CP on the nose – as noted earlier, a +1 ECL template. Characters who opt not to take such abilities, or take only part of the package, will be somewhat more powerful – while those who do want such abilities can give up some powers they might otherwise get to have them. You’d prefer something like “Devastating Blow”, or perhaps some fourth-edition style per-encounter or daily powers to some of the things on the list? Go ahead and build them. This is Eclipse; just swap some items out.