d20 Low-Level Eclipse Hero Template

   The biggest problems with playing low-level d20 are pretty simple;

   The characters are a trifle too fragile. A single blow with a club, a fall down a flight of steps, or a dogs bite can all easily prove fatal during the first few levels for most characters. While that’s not particularly unrealistic, the probability of it, and the rate at which such things happen to d20 characters is. d20’s hit point mechanic simply has no good way to account for the less than life threatening strains, sprains, and minor injures which most often result from such events. Worse, inserting such a system would be extremely awkward – especially since d20 makes wounds so easy to heal. Low-level characters who plan ahead and have the good sense to retreat when necessary can often beat the odds – but if you keep the characters at low levels, the statistics will catch up with them all too soon.

   So, first up, characters in a low-level game need a few extra hit points.

   Secondarily, low-level d20 characters are often little more competent than the people around them. When your supposedly-skilled lock-picker and pick-pocket only has a +4 (20%) advantage over a complete novice, it’s hard to look good. Indeed, it’s hard to look like you have any idea what you’re doing. That’s somewhat annoying in a standard d20 game, where the characters soon leave the days of low bonuses behind them, but in a low-level game it’s rather blatant.

   Ergo, we need some skill bonuses on a characters major skills – and possibly some penalty for unskilled skill use.

   Finally, low-level characters are often a lot alike. Ergo, they could use a distinctive trait or small bonus or two.

   The usual solution to that kind of problem in d20 is to apply a Template. To keep it from complicating level costs in Eclipse, our “Low-Level Adventurer Template” should have a net cost of zero character points. Ergo, it has to involve some disadvantages:

   Everyone in a low-level setting gets:

  • Incompetent. These characters suffer a -3 penalty on all skills in which they have no training.
  • Accursed. These characters only advance in level slowly by direct character point awards – usually gaining 2-3 character points per session. Once they hit level six, this slows even more, to a mere 1-2 CP per session. At level ten, it’s reduced to 1 CP per session. Non-adventurers usually acquire CP even more slowly.

   Minor NPC’s normally spend those six points on:

  • Privilege/usually gets to live quietly and unmolested by various minor creatures.
  • Privilege/adventurers tend to help and protect them when they’re in trouble.

   Which neatly explains why PC’s can wind up in horrible trouble everywhere they go, yet the local peasants are still alive.

   PC’s and major NPC’s get another disadvantage:

  • They’re Valuable Trouble Magnets. They’re rare, often good for a ransom or forced service if they get captured due to that rarity, and can find trouble almost anywhere.

   PC’s and major NPC’s spend those ten (in total) points on the Low-Level Adventurer Template. That includes:

  • Innate Enchantment (5000 GP Value, 6 CP). In general, all of the effects are Spell Level 0 or 1, Caster Level One, Unlimited-Use Use-Activated, and either Personal Only or Unranged for a net cost of 700 GP for cantrips and 1400 GP for the level one effects.
  • Immunity/Stacking limits when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (Common, Minor, Trivial (only covers L0 and L1 effects), Specialized/only to protect the abilities which are part of this template, 1 CP).
  • Immunity/Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Minor, Major, Specialized and Corrupted/only protects the internally-directed powers in this template – essentially transforming them into Extraordinary Abilities, 2 CP).
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers L0 and L1 effects at caster level one], Specialized/only to cover the abilities in this template, 1 CP).

   Everyone with this template gets:

  • Ordinary Durability (Immortal Vigor I): This adds (12 + 2x Con Mod) HP – a bonus which should apply to notable unclassed opponents as well (1400 GP).
  • Constant Practice (Skill Mastery): This provides a +3 Competence Bonus on a particular group of skills. In general, the player should consult with the GM on the selection of five skills which suit his or her characters background and training (1400 GP).

   Everyone with this template gets one choice (worth 1400 GP) from among:

  • Animal Affinity (Hedge Wizardry/Animal Influence). You have a special relationship with animals, and can often get them to do what you want.
  • Cantrip Expert (Level One Generalized Lucubration): You may use each cantrip you could normally cast twice.
  • Evasive (Shield of Faith): You’re good at evading attacks, and gain a +2 bonus to your AC.
  • Far Traveler (Longstrider): You have traveled widely, and can efficiently cover ground.
  • Fortunate (Aura of Favor): You gain a +1 bonus to Attacks and Damage.
  • Hard Training (Enhance (Selected) Attribute): You gain a +2 bonus on an attribute of your choice.
  • Impervious (Resist II): You gain a +2 bonus on saving throws.
  • Iron Fists (Magic Natural Weapons): Your natural weapons are treated as +1 weapons.
  • Jack of All Trades (Fortune’s Favor): You gain a +2 bonus on Skill and Attribute checks. Sadly, this does not actually count as being skilled.
  • Magic Resistant (Least Spell Resistance): You gain Spell Resistance 7.
  • Natural Health (Hedge Wizardry/Relieve Poison): You gain a +4 bonus on saves versus poison and reduce the attribute damage from failed saves against poison by two points (to a minimum of zero) each time you take damage.
  • Plague Survivor (Hedge Wizardry/Relieve Illness): You gain a +4 bonus on saves versus disease and reduce the attribute damage from failed saves against illnesses by two points (to a minimum of zero) each time you take damage.
  • Quarterstaff Expert (Shillelagh): You are supernaturally skilled with a quarterstaff.
  • Quick Healer (Lesser Vigor): You heal naturally at twice the normal speed.
  • Veteran (Damage Reduction to Stun): The first three points of damage from any attack are converted to stun damage.
  • Weather Hardened (Endure Elements): You are used to hard living in the wilderness, and can readily endure the extremes of weather.

   And one choice (worth 700 GP) from among:

  • Enduring (Resistance): You gain a +1 bonus on Saves.
  • Expertise (Weapon Mastery): You gain a +3 BAB with a particular weapon.
  • Firestarter (Ray of Flame): You may easily and quickly start fires, light candles, and so on, with a touch.
  • Hardy (Damage Reduction): You gain DR 1/-, which stacks with any natural DR you have.
  • Internal Compass (Know Direction): You never lose your bearings.
  • Intimidator (Summon Knives): You may produce up to three knives per round as a free action, although they only last for one minute once you let go of them.
  • Knack (Skill Mastery): You may add an additional skill to your list of skills on which you get a +3 bonus.
  • Mage Sense (Detect Magic). You’re inherently sensitive to magical energies.
  • Mysticism (Prestidigitation): You may perform a wide variety of minor magical tricks.
  • Photographic Memory (Mnemonic): You may precisely recall the things you witness for up to a week, and enjoy a +5 bonus on recall attempts thereafter.
  • Second Skin (Lighten Armor): Whatever armor you wear, you may reduce it’s Armor Check Penalty by two and increase the maximum dexterity bonus it allows by one.
  • Sensitive Nose (Detect Poison): You can easily determine if someone has poisoned your food or drink – or it a suspicious substance is poisonous.
  • Slayer (Disrupt Undead): You gain a +1d6 bonus to melee damage when fighting undead or another specialized type of opponent.
  • Stylish (Clean Clothing): Your clothing – and person – is always clean and well-tended.
  • Sun Eyes (Sensory Warding): You are immune to penalties for excessive illumination and gain a +4 bonus on saves against bright light, such as Color Spray.
  • Well-Practiced (Enhance Attribute): You may add a +1 bonus to a selected attribute – albeit not one that has already been affected by Hard Training (above).

   While those two lists allow for thousands of combinations, the players are always free to propose other secondary talents. In general, such talents should be limited to affecting the caster or – at most – something he or she touches. Sadly, healing talents are generally not acceptable.

   While this template does make lower-level characters a good deal tougher, and provides them with a couple of extra abilities, it also drastically slows their level advancement – which, for someone who wants to run a lower-level game, is all to the good. The penalty for being unskilled, coupled with the +3 bonus to a character’s preferred skills, means that a skilled character using a favored skill will have a worthwhile advantage over an unskilled character – usually -3 (Unskilled Penalty) versus +7 (4 Skill Points and a +3 preferred skill bonus).

   The personal tricks are simply lagniappe; the points were available, so they might as well be spent – especially since one of the requests was for each low-level character to have a few minor distinguishing abilities.


21 Responses

  1. So I’m guessing this was the result of someone asking for an Eclipse version of E6?

    • Not precisely; this was a request related to the Hedge Magic series – how to use d20 to run a long-term low level game, where first-level characters could be considered reasonably experienced professionals rather than beginners. The low-level adventurer template assumes about 10 sessions – averaging 2.5 CP apiece – per level up until level six, and slowing thereafter. Thus a one-year weekly campaign would take the characters to level six, a second year would take them to level nine, and thereafter they’d progress at about two levels per year.

      That happens to suit me in some ways as well; it’s always sad when a character has abilities they’ve never used or explored – one reason why a lot of systems use slower “leveling” (in whatever form it takes in them) and why I usually run Eclipse awarding 2 CP per session as a default..

      E6 assumes that characters will progress normally though levels 1-6, and then only acquire feats. To set that up in Eclipse, all you need is:

      Accursed: Progresses by direct awards of character points but no longer gains levels after level six.

      The character can continue to gain character points, but gets no free skill points, no free hit die, no further benefits from duties or restrictions – and no increase in the basic (Level+3) cap on hit dice, skills, base attack bonus, magic levels, and similar abilities. While Eclipse characters can buy things with points that normally only come with levels in straight d20, or buy templates, or partially bypass that cap in a lot of other ways, that limit will still start to pinch after awhile.

      If you’re using that big a tweak though, it’s always best to discuss what kind of game you want to run with the players beforehand. Eclipse – like most systems – can be used to design troublesome or seriously overpowered characters. After all, there’s no way to avoid that in a system designed to cover everything. That’s why the GM is encouraged to follow the rules on page 163 about saying “no” – and why there are some notes on the topic under “How Do I Use This Product?” at the very beginning. If some of the players keep trying to build characters that won’t fit into the game a game master is trying to run, then either the game master isn’t communicating effectively with the players in question or those players simply don’t want to play that kind of game. Either way, the problem isn’t in the game system, and can’t be fixed there except by making it impossible to build the kind of characters that the players want. If the players aren’t willing to go along with the game master for the sake of the game, then they might want to start another one.

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