Eclipse d20 – Character Optimization and Broken Builds

   There are, in fact, quite a few ways to build a severely broken character in Eclipse. After all, it allows you to build pretty much anything that you could build in straight d20, so there are just as many ways as there are in straight d20 – which is rather a lot. Of course, Eclipse also has some control mechanisms built in to help the game master govern the game.

   So here are the ten of the most common severely broken builds for Eclipse – and how they’re normally restrained.

   The Overly-Familiar. This character has taken a familiar with some sort of limitation on it, so it costs less than six points – and has somehow persuaded the game master to think that the “six points worth of abilities appropriate to the familiar” that a familiar bestows should include another, similar, familiar. He or she thus gains not only an infinite number of familiars but infinite power in some field as well. While the full-scale version of this character depends on persuading the game master to accept that bit of blatant absurdity, lesser versions – characters with several different limited familiars – may be acceptable. The game master need merely make sure that the limited familiars are enough bother to make up for the dozen or so extra character points that the character will be squeezing out. Why is this one first? Because it’s not only about the only truly simple infinite-power loop in the system, but it’s also the only one that a character can – with the proper selection of disadvantages – take at the moment of birth.

   The Impervious One. This character has persuaded the game master to let him take Immunities to aspects of reality such as inconvenient natural laws and game mechanics. Now sometimes that works; an incredibly skilled healer who can bypass the normal restrictions on what can be done with his or her medical skill is not likely to be a disaster in the game. An archer who can ignore all range penalties a few times a day is equally reasonable. Quite a lot of super-heroic strongman get to ignore leverage and the structural integrity limitations of the items they pick up. On the other hand, a character who’s immune to stacking limitations, experience point costs, dispelling and antimagic, damage, being perceived, death, the restriction on using more than one from of “Berserker” at a time, or a selection of similar items is quite another matter. That, of course, is why such immunities are only available “if the game master opts to allow it”. The cure is simple; for the most part, follow the rules and simply don’t allow natural-law immunities. Personally, I usually only allow immunities to rules and natural laws under very limited circumstances or as part of a template or race that I want to be extremely powerful – either as opponents or as a bribe to the players to get them to take the races and templates I want in the setting.

   The Cosmic Power. This character has focused on following a particular chain of abilities up to something meant for a high-level character as quickly as possible or – more commonly – has taken the rules for a power that provides some fixed benefit and used Specialization and Corruption to multiply that effect. That way you could take something like “Inherent Spell”, “Spell Conversion”, or Path of the Dragon and turn a simple level three effect to a level nine effect. You can even stack it with Hysteria to boost the effect from x3 to x4. With that, you could take a simple ability that creates third-level effect and use it to create a twelfth-level effect. It’ll be pretty narrowly focused or expansive thanks to the same Specialization and Corruption that you’re using to upgrade it, but who cares about that when you can have vast power so quickly and easily – at least if you ignore that pesky bit about having to have an effective level of at least (twice the level of the effect being used -1) to fully control such forces and the restrictions on upper level effects – but those restrictions don’t explicitly say that they apply to the end result rather than the base ability.

   Now, sometimes I’ll allow this; after all, it’s the game masters job to handle the exceptions – and every so often someone will come up with a really good concept that calls for access to some high-powered ability, or I’ll want to put some into some high-powered race, or a game will simply be high-powered enough that it really doesn’t matter. Still, making special exceptions in the rules should always be on a case-by-case basis.

   The Bottlenecker. This character relies on focusing on one or two attributes – pushing it or them to absurd heights with effects like Self-Development, Berserker, and Hysteria, and then using Augmented Bonus and Finesse to add those attribute modifiers to everything in sight. Play your cards right – using, Specialized and Corrupted forms of Berserker and Hysteria to multiply the effect – and you may be able to apply a temporary boost of +80 to an already incredible attribute for a mere thirty or forty points. This, of course, is abusing the rules – and completely ignores the guidelines for using Berserker and the cautionary bits about “appropriate”, “might be acceptable choices”, and “total”. Still, it isn’t outright forbidden; after all, in superheroic settings an incredibly-enhanced attribute or two may be quite normal. For this we have the rules on page 163 about keeping characters under control.

   The Nova. This character actually comes in two minor variants – the brief godling and the uber-specialist. The godling is built using short-term and limited-use enhancements, stacking effects like Berserker (applied to caster level) and Hysteria, limited-use Innate Enchantments which cost XP to recharge, and similar items that he or she can’t use very often, but which offer a lot of power when they are used. The uber-specialist has fewer usage limitations, but his or her powers are focused on a particular task to the point where they’re overwhelming within their focus but useless outside of it. They prefer tricks like taking Luck, Specialized and Corrupted for increased effect (so they can “Take 60” on critical rolls), skills specialized in particular applications, enhancements versus particular kinds of targets, vast amounts of “sneak attack”, and so on. In either case, for part of each session the Nova will completely dominate the game – and will then sink back into useless mediocrity. Either way, the character is boring – and the player will usually try to push the game into focusing exclusive on his or her character’s strong points, simply because when it’s focused on other things, he or she will have little or nothing to do. Now, there’s nothing wrong with creating characters with rarely-used reserves, or who are focused on particular approaches. Otherwise everyone would be playing barbarian/bard/cleric/fighter/monk/rogue/wizards and the characters would all be dabblers in everything. You just want to head off the tendency to overdo it – which is what the Adventurer Framework on page 16 and the rules on page 163 cover. Most players will understand if you tell them why you think their character proposal will be boring – and for the rest, there’s page 163 and “No”.

   The Charmed Life. This character has simply discovered the joys of Innate Enchantment (and perhaps Empowerment) – and the fact that you can buy an entire raft of always-on cantrips and first level spells quite cheaply simply by taking them with a caster level of one. It’s design-your-own items that can’t be taken away! Even if they can be dispelled, they come right back – and all you need to do to avoid that is persuade the game master to let you take an appropriate immunity or to let you define the abilities as the effects of your cyberware (vulnerable to electromagnetic pulses and electrical attacks, rather than dispelling) or some such. Admittedly, this means that a lot of items won’t stack with your natural talents, but that just means that you focus on the ones that will – or try to persuade your game master to let you take an immunity to that limitation. You can even slip into this category without even realizing it, simply by adding a little enchantment here and there whenever it’s convenient – and it so often is. There are such a lot of first level spells that it would be really convenient to have running all the time – and for a mere 2 CP and 160 XP or so, you can have any one of them you want. There’s nothing wrong with Innate Enchantment – but go too far overboard on it, and you’re asking for a page 163 intervention – an ECL adjustment or a firm “no”.

   The Pet Spammer. This character has Companions, or Followers, or summoning spells, with a bunch of enhancements applied to them – often enough to make them far more powerful than their master and sometimes enough to make them more powerful than the other members of the party. Now this isn’t necessarily a problem. Even in a conventional fantasy setting, if the pet spammer keeps sending his pets off to escort the civilians to safety, or to help hold the walls, or to carry messages, or to do a little spying, while the actual player characters deal with some more vital mission, that won’t hurt a thing. If everyone has a high-powered pet or two the game may look a little more like a Pokemon episode than like a dungeon crawl, but that works too. It’s when the pets start making the actual characters feel redundant, or feed back immense amounts of power to their boss, that there’s a problem.

   Unfortunately, taking out the options for powerful henchmen and companions would prevent people from using the system for pokemon and companion-heavy games. Fora universal system that won’t do at all – so here the solution is to make a note about this sort of thing on the campaign options checklist (page 197), talk to the players who are creating a problem (if any), and keep pages 2 and 163 in mind – the “how do I use this product” and “keeping the players under control” sections. That’s why the system introduction page directs game masters to the campaign options checklist in the very first paragraph; game masters need to restrict the options to the ones that fit into the setting.

   The Glorious One. This spellcaster has discovered the “Streamline” or – especially – the “Glory” ability. Both allow you to add metamagic to your spells for free – and Glory allows you to add metamagic to your spells based on your Constitution.

   So, all you need to do is to use effect-enhancing metamagics on spells that increase your constitution – allowing you to add even more effect-enhancing metamagic to the next spell. Combined with a way to sustain self-enhancement spells, or a way to make them permanent, and a way to prevent them from being dispelled, you have an open route to unlimited power – at least if you’ve got the ability to throw some pretty high level spells in the first place. Of course, a little dipping into the Nova-style builds will reveal several ways to work a few high-level spells each day even if you happen to be fairly low level at the moment. Throw in a bit of augmented bonus or some such, and you can reach for unlimited power even faster.

   Glory was intended to provide a way to duplicate the spontaneous metamagic feats, where you could apply a given metamagic to your spell so many times per day. The trouble with that in Eclipse was that Metamagical Theorems were far more flexible and open-ended than Metamagical Feats – which meant you needed a cap on how many levels of metamagic such a feat applied. If Glory is creating a problem, and you aren’t finding page 163 and “No” sufficient, simply read the Glory ability as “adding up to (BASE Con Mod) spell levels…” and that should fix the problem.

   The Deathblow. This character may use Trick, Doubled Damage, Augment Attack, Enhanced Strike, or some other combination of special abilities, but it’s all directed to a very specific goal; they decide to hit something, and it pretty much automatically dies. Admittedly, this is simply a variation on the Nova-style Uber-Specialist, but it’s common enough to deserve special mention.

   Personally, I usually find it sufficient to point out that, if there are PC builds like this running around, there will also be NPC builds like this running around. Secondarily, when you come right down to it, builds like this are quite boring. Finally, while there’s no rule against using various combinations to do immense amounts of damage (it really wouldn’t be d20 at higher levels if there was), there’s always page 163 and the word “No”. Remember; simply saying “you can use Eclipse” is pretty much equivalent to saying “you can use any sourcebook that’s ever been published, considered for publication, or dreamed of”. Unless you couple that with “but I’m going to have to see and approve of your characters”, things that you have never imagined are bound to come up.

   The Social Networker. This character has focused on Blessing and/or Mystic Link – and on sharing personal enhancements and abilities with others. Now, in some ways, that’s not a problem at all; most such characters enhance their entire party, and so don’t upset the other players particularly. In other ways, it is a problem; it means that the entire party can become vastly more powerful, more enduring, and more tightly linked while the Social Networker is present. You wind up with a team lynchpin who – having invested heavily in creating that network – can be relatively ineffectual personally. Worse, the teams power level can vary wildly depending on the presence or absence of a single character, who will also be a prime target.

   Is this necessarily a problem? That does depend on the game – but if the Social Networker also happens to be dabbling heavily in Innate Enchantment, things can get out of control pretty quickly.

   Blessing has it’s own recommended restrictions listed with the power itself, but Mystic Link is wide open – making this build actually legal. There’s nothing wrong with Mystic Links – but go too far overboard with them, and you’re asking for a page 163 intervention – an ECL adjustment or a firm “no”.

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6 Responses

  1. ive seen some of these creep in and some variations or toned down versions.

    • Oh yes. They’re all perfectly valid tools for building characters and unusual concepts, and I’ve allowed more-or-less limited versions of all of them at one point or another – but I couldn’t really say that Eclipse let you build any d20 character you wanted if there wasn’t some way to create versions of most of the really broken builds too.

      It does puzzle me sometimes though; one of the more common questions I get is “how do I build this feat / ability from (some source or other)”. That’s generally quite possible, and I’ll usually show them how to build an Eclipse-equivalent – but it isn’t strictly necessary. Eclipse is designed to be be back-compatible. There’s nothing wrong with mixing some standard class levels in with Eclipse, or starting as a basic fighter and branching off into Eclipse for levels four and up, or just asking the game master to slap a character-point price tag on some interesting-looking ability. After all, “compatibility” only matters in a game with multiple game masters or when transferring characters – and that’s rare enough so that most groups handle that however suits them best.

  2. […] appreciate “broken” characters too; there’s a page about optimized and broken builds as a resource; with any luck the reviewer will let me know what builds broke easily so that I can […]

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