Having looked at some of the abusive builds – and why they won’t work if the game master is paying attention – it’s time to take a look at some of the potentially over-efficient builds and how to handle them.
The Shapeshifter. This character has invested a lot of points in the various Shapeshifting upgrades, and has purchased some extra hit dice (or an immunity to the hit die requirement for turning into things if the game master is silly enough to let him or her get away with that), and has been poring through various books looking for creatures with really useful powers to turn into.
There are a couple of things to remember here.
Can I – say – grab the statistics for a hawk, add “Special Attack (Ex): Spits acid up to 120′ as a ranged touch attack with a +20 racial bonus inflicting 40d6 damage” and “Special Defenses (Ex): Immunity to Acid”, call my new creature an “Acid Hawk”, leave it as an animal, and change into it?
Obviously not. No sane GM will let that work. No sane GM will allow the player to drag creatures out of random sourcebooks either. No such creatures exist in his campaign!
Ah. That’s the first bit. A shapeshifter can only turn into creatures which exist in the campaign. They can’t just make things up – or quote irrelevant sources, no matter how “official”. Personally, I presume that’s because shapeshifting needs an established pattern – and so shapeshifters can only turn into things which are reasonably plentiful in the setting – automatically putting unique and near-unique creatures are off limits as well, just as they are with the Shapechange spell.
So; be careful what creatures you allow into your campaign. To be blunt, even a single Monster Manuel style book probably has more creatures than you’re going to need for a campaign – and if you want something to be unique, just make it so. If you have any doubts about a creature, don’t allow it. If you want to use it later, it may have been imported, or recently created – or just be too rare to provide a pattern for shapeshifting.
Secondarily, the character needs to be familiar with the creature he or she wants to turn into. That’s not necessarily a firm rule if the game master feels like allowing experimentation (“I turn into the largest hawk-like bird I can!”) – but I personally suspect that trying to transform your body into something that might not exist and which you’re unfamiliar with in any case is pretty well up there on the “risky behavior” scale. “A big hawk” will exist in most settings. “An eight legged animal with poison fangs and climbing claws” very well may not – and the results of trying to turn into something that doesn’t exist are unlikely to be pleasant.
The Stunt Double. This character has taken several instances of Action Hero/Stunts specialized in a particular type of activity and studied the rules – and thus, in any tense or puzzling situation, can always whip out some precisely-tailored special ability (that he or she never used before and never will again) to deal with it or to escape serious injury. That’s entirely legal and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just boring. You deal with that as per page 163 – assigning an equally-boring ECL penalty to the character. Of course, if you happen to be running a slow-advancement game, there may not be a problem at all; Action Points will be a scarce resource. Advanced cases will usually be Luckmasters as well.
The Luckmaster. This character simply hates to fail – and so he has taken Luck. With lots of Bonus Uses. Often in several specialized varieties so that he can afford more of it.
So whenever there’s a critical die roll to be made, the Luckmaster can simply have it be a twenty.
That’s legal enough – but, in a way, it’s its own penalty; the Luckmaster is boring. Worse, if your game makes a lot of die rolls, the only way they’ll be able to buy enough luck to keep it up is to skimp on their other abilities – making them even more boring. If that’s not enough, you can invoke page 163, assign an ECL penalty, and thus make the Luckmaster even more boring than before.
The trouble with that, is that a player who doesn’t want to risk failing probably has a fairly high tolerance for boredom already. I prefer to deal with this particular problem in the game world.
Now there’s no downside to genuine luck, but the Luck ABILITY simply allows you to presume that your die turned up a “20” without actually having to roll it – and it only works a limited number of times per game day. Make sure that the player isn’t always sure whether to use those 20’s or save them for later on. Add some depth to your world.
Don’t have many single, critical, rolls. Most important things really should depend on several actions and checks anyway.
Call for less-than-vital checks. Is that Spot check for a deadly ambush – or just to notice some minor detail?
Have important activities – with lots of chances to roll dice while doing them – other than combat.
Don’t give away information until after the players are done rolling. If they don’t know what that incoming spell is, they won’t find out the effects until after their saves have already succeeded or failed.
In extreme cases, you may want to have some rolls which the characters would prefer to fail. Perhaps the legendary blade must bond with it’s wielder in order to aid him – and so it’s prospective owner must fail his or her will save to claim the blade. Perhaps the partially-buried glyph will go off if someone notices it, but is otherwise harmless. Perhaps that locked door is holding back some terrible peril, and it would be best not to manage to pick the lock.
You wouldn’t want to overdo that sort of thing, but there really are times when people would be better off failing. What people want is not necessarily what is best for them.
The MegaWitch. This character has taken Witchcraft, and a few of the most useful advanced abilities – and has purchased a LOT of power to run them with, either as Mana, by taking Rite of Chi, or by buying a Psionic Progression (often with no caster level and specialized so as to include no disciplines). He or she may be running the half-celestial template all day for a relative handful of points, continuously turning incorporeal, or granting everyone else the benefits of his or her saving throws.
That’s possible because – while Witchcraft has relatively low upper limits in many ways – it’s very efficient about those things that it can do. That’s why there’s a note on page 121 at the end of the Witchcraft section advising the game mater to be wary of characters who combine large reserves of Power with Witchcraft.
Well, presuming you weren’t wary, didn’t say no, and are running a low-to-mid powered campaign where this is a serious problem, it’s time to take a look at page 163 again. You could gratuitously throw in some problems with using such powers all the time – creatures that hunt individuals who do that, or entities which are jealous of mortals using their powers, or some such – but a boring ECL penalty is probably the way to go. In most cases that will neatly match those overused abilities up with their effective levels again.
The Deity. This character really is a deity. The player has noted that you can get Dominion, Manipulation, Sphere of Influence, and Godfire – becoming a genuine god – for a mere twenty-four points. Have a fast and persuasive tongue, and you could tack that onto the human racial template (either in place of the racial bonus feat or by adding a disadvantage, such as “obligations to divine parent, -3”) and stay at a +0 ECL. You could be a GOD and have an ECL of Zero! Think of the perks!
That does require leapfrogging right past two instances of “special circumstances and game masters permission required”, but we’ll presume that the game master is someone who can’t say “no”.
Actually, this isn’t so bad. For that investment, you get several things.
You’re good at running a domain and can get dominion points – if you manage to acquire a domain.
You can influence events in your domain by spending dominion points.
You can sense events related to your sphere of influence.
You get a -1 modifier on the level of spells related to your sphere of influence.
You get one point of Godfire.
As side effects of having Godfire:
You don’t age.
You aren’t affected by diseases (although you can carry them).
You can recover from Petrification and Polymorph effects after a fight
You are fertile with virtually anything.
You don’t get a domain; you’ll have to acquire that normally – and unless you do, you have nothing to run and can’t acquire dominion points to spend on running a domain.
Age doesn’t matter much in most games.
Diseases are generally easy to deal with.
Petrification and long-term Polymorph effects are both fairly rare, since they often amount to putting the player out of the game.
Unwanted kids are no real bonus.
So what you’re really buying with those twenty-four points is the ability to sense events you can do nothing about, slightly easier access to spells in a specific field, and that precious point of godfire.
Hang onto that Godfire Point young deity; you may not get another during the duration of the campaign.
That’s why most young gods reserve that Godfire Point for something like bringing themselves, and their friends, back to life after the parties wiped out. That – as noted in Eclipse – is a handy safety for the game master. If he or she slips up and there’s a total party kill, the players can fix it themselves.
As one player-character deity has noted, being a god is a job in the service industry.
The Speedster and the X-Man. The speedster has boosted their movement rate, learned to split their move around their attacks, and learned to move through threatened squares without provoking attacks of opportunity. They can dart in and through a group of enemies, attack, and retreat again beyond the point where they can be easily attacked without any real risk.
In fact, the Speedster is simply one of the more common examples of the X-Man – a character optimized for one or two specific tricks or tactics. The classical d20 Fighter often went this way at higher levels, but – in Eclipse – you can over-specialize much more quickly and at much lower levels. Carry this too far, and you’ve got the Nova – a character who utterly dominates whenever their speciality comes up and has nothing to do otherwise.
Now, if one or two players make X-Men, all you need to do is make sure that they have their chances to show off, but that their tactic or trick doesn’t always work – and for every power, there is a counter. For our Speedster, there are ranged attacks, reflex actions, confined places, barriers, entanglement, and many other methods.
If everyone in the party is an X-Man, your adventures are going to resemble the adventures of a bunch of cartoon superheroes more than the usual fantasy Tolkien-style fantasy adventures – but that’s simply leaning back towards an older style of heroic adventures. Many tales of the Knights of the Round Table, the Bogotirs of Russia, the Greek Heroes, and the Doomed Warriors of the Sagas (among tales from many, many, other cultures) featured heroes who possessed marvelous and peculiar talents – albeit rarely more than one or two each.
Overall, characters like this are unusual, but they’re actually pretty easy to work with. After all, you’ll know their strengths and weaknesses in detail very quickly indeed – which makes them easy to set up adventures for.