Eclipse d20 – Character Optimization and Over-Optimization

   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.

   Well now.

  • 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.

13 Responses

  1. If being a Deity is a job… can you make Profession: Deity rolls?
    I can imagine that if you have your DC 69 Cha-check àla Raven down, you can probably get some employment in the military (we are talking up to +24 CP and +6 to relevant stats to the troops), which can get you some gold (let’s say you have your Godfire down and a +20 to profession, which is doable, you can get 100 gold pieces per week (1 week work equates a months work and you take 30), which is a pretty good payment).

    Would there be other benefits you could utilize with Profession like that?


    • Yes. In general – and as examined in detail over HERE – Craft and Profession skills can be used in a lot of ways beyond what the rules cover.

      Just at a glance, you can try to inspire your followers to…

      Build Sacred Architecture (Small Shrine, Modest Temple or Hermitage, Monastery or Grand Temple (3 rolls over at least a year), Mighty Cathedral or other major religious complex (7 rolls over at least a decade) DC 5/15/30/50.

      Make Ritual Sacrifices (to gain more Godfire). Minor/Notable/Major/Grandiose sacrifices requiring DC 15/25/40/60 checks every Season/Month/Two Weeks/Week.

      Launch a group of Missionaries/a reform movement or new holy tome/a religious order, inquisition or persecution/a crusade or major support effort. DC 10/20/35/55, requiring three rolls within the same year and for each year the effort is maintained.

      Support You (Hold a visitation and get plentifully fed and the best beds/get gifts and concubines/get money and a lavish festival/inspire a national celebration DC 5/25/25/40, up to once a week/month/season/year.

      Improve Your Market Share (draw some of the uncommitted to your cause as a new set of basic followers/new lay preachers/priests/religious knights DC 10/20/30/40.

      Similarly, trying to figure out how to best assist your followers, or how to join a pantheon, or some similar divine task would fall under this skill.

      • DC 5 for free food… Gotta be strong in mind not to abuse that, most the items on my shopping-list are already food related.

        If you build a Sacred Architecture, would I need to provide the money personally or is that accounted for via the check?

        And what qualifies as a major support effort? I mean, I can see an orphanage or somesuch being a big thing, sure, but is it more complicated than establishing a holy (well… unholy-axiomatic) order?

      • Ah well. When a God drops by it’s generally wise to serve the best you’ve got…

        You don’t have to pay for Sacred Architecture. After all, to be realistic… it’s not really for your use; it’s for your followers to worship at, use to overawe visitors, and demonstrate how important THEIR community is with.

        A major support effort is more along the lines of “send food to the famine-stricken province” or “Help rebuild France after the war” – something involving the efforts of people on the scale of supporting a fair-sized war. “An Orphanage” is more along the lines of a group of missionaries (if you just need some staff) or – at most – “a modest temple or hermitage” (if you want to build one). Orphanages ARE excellent “I am a nice guy!” badges though, even for a god.

      • Wouldn’t an orphanage be of use for any alignment though? Even a god of slaughter would benefit from having a young and manipulateable little horde of children, because these children would provide godfire.

        Given what might be definable as a modest sized cult, having a village with a local orphanage that “supports” the surrounding villages might actually be able to qualify (how often does a farmer die trying to protect his family, and how many families can support children after such an incident? Not to mention child mortality rates and parents may seeing the orphanage as a possibility of survival).

        Not to mention that if it’s under divine aid, you may have some higher level followers around in said orphanage. If you manage to get a single child to level up to take a 1/day “Luck”, corrupted and specialized for UMD-Skill checks with a specific type of scroll only, we could invest a single point of Godfire to create 3 scrolls of Grand Awakening (assuming “Creation” doesn’t require we actually need to be able to cast the spell to create the magic items, which isn’t suggested) and have the kid convert 2 other children into level 5 characters, allowing them to take 8 cleric-package magic levels, given that they most likely come with the known Duties of clerics, to handle any sort of disease or injury via cure light wounds and remove disease and invest the rest of the “magic item gold” (of which we have 30000 left, assuming the items don’t belong in our domains) into 15 “Field Provisions Boxes”, which provide 1/day food for 15 people, resulting into 225 sustainable humans (and that’s adults… it’s possible children eat only 3/4ths or similar portions).

        Sure, Godfire is rare, and sure, it’s an investment, but looking back at it, if you are a start up god, that’s one way to be able to gather up your modest child cult that will be able to provide you godfire in the long run.

        And if you have an advertisement-witchcraft-pact, you pretty much fullfill it automatically if the child that used the third scroll on himself became a witch and took on Witchcraft for 12 CP, choosing “The Hand of Shadows” (to impress children it should be enough), “Healing” (again, we are talking to children that are well aware of the worlds dangers) and “Hyloka” (for both reasons really).

        Finally, the children make a great host for various spirits too…

        I think an orphanage can be of really great use if you use it correctly.

      • There are indeed lots of ways to use Orphanages, if only because kids are easily indoctrinated (there’s always the classic “train a swarm of child-assassins” route) – it’s just that kids usually require a fair investment of resources in their care, supervision, protection, and training before they become very useful – and even that will usually take a few years (during which it will usually be better to have your flock growing). Invest those same resources in taking over a small community and you can readily get the locals to produce the kids and raise them to worship and serve you on top of being able to tap the place for money, troops, and priests.

        Thus the general preference through history has been to simply seize control, leaving “snatching the kids” as a tactic for special circumstances. Even if you’re going for child-soldiers, they generally aren’t as effective as adults. (Janissaries generally don’t count; they normally started at fourteen – a fairly normal age for being treated as an adult at the time). Godhood really doesn’t change that kind of economic calculation much.

        Orphanages are excellent “I am a nice guy!” badges simply because (a) most people tend to see them that way, and (b) more malevolent gods can usually find more cost-efficient ways to invest their power. That doesn’t mean that Orphanages are useless to the nastier gods (especially if they’re trying to improve their image or do something sneaky), just that the “good guys” are much more likely to support them (if a lot less likely to take them over…).

      • So… I could either take over the small community and have them make children, in which case I gain adults that produce children, or I can make an orphanage, giving me access to children, which I can then use to infiltrate and take over the small community.

        It seems it would take some time either way to me, if only because adults appear to be harder to impress, especially because if I am active in the world, it means that people worshipping me would only gain access to level 3 or lower spells, which would look kinda bad if I leave the people of the community witness clerics of other faiths (and probably older gods…)

        I mean, I understand that taking over the community directly would probably yield faster results, but it also seems somewhat more risky, mostly due to traveling merchants possibly catching on to what’s happining in the town.

      • Ah, now that’s a demographics issue… And, at it’s most basic… How many orphans are there in a generic d20 setting?

        Current real-world estimates give us 153 million orphaned, abandoned, or otherwise short a caregiver, kids out of 7.4 billion people.

        That’s close to 2% of the population – a lot more than most people from developed countries would think, mostly because it includes areas, like Sub-Saharan Africa, and numerous war zones, where conditions are pretty horrible and partly because it counts kids who are only short one parent. Secondarily, the ratio is a LOT lower in the areas most RPG players come from. Now that ratio might have been higher in the past, but between AIDS, wars, the fact that kids are now rather more likely to survive the loss of their caregivers than they used to be, and a pretty much complete lack of statistical data on the topic during the medieval period, that’s pretty much impossible to say. We’re just going to have to make some guesstimates here.

        Almost as importantly, d20 settings are usually designed for enjoyable play, rather than tearjerking – which is why prosperous little hamlets with cute, healthy, kids are the rule and encounters with mud hovels and swarms of starving, diseased, child-beggars are rare rather than the norm. (Thus the various articles discussed HERE).

        So for our first major guesstimate… let us up it just a bit, and call it 2.5%. One person in every forty in our d20 setting is an orphaned child. Quite a lot of them will have places though – taken in by relatives, or as a servant/slave, or by religious houses, or by guilds (looking after orphaned children of guild members was part of what many guilds were all about), or by crooks/gangs, or as playthings, put into jail, hanging for thievery, or whatever. After all, like it or not, the massive disparities in personal power in d20 will almost certainly lead to some serious class divisions – and to quite a lot of people being treated as personal property of the powerful. That sort of thing is bad enough in reality, where everyone is actually pretty much equal.

        So… lets say that 1% of the population is going to consist of unplaced orphans. They often occur in small clusters though, so the distribution is going to be pretty uneven.

        Even Disregarding the somewhat borked rules for Druids and Rangers, the d20 rules tell us that most of the population is rural and lives in Thorps (average population of 50) and Hamlets (average population of 240) – which tells us that a lot of small population centers probably don’t have any orphans rattling around and most of them that do won’t have very many. Large orphanages (and most chances for employment outside of family farms and businesses) go with cities.

        There just aren’t enough orphans to build a substantial power base in the community out of them in less than generations (even if those are relatively short in most d20 settings). Now there’s nothing wrong with taking generations – but most people (and most d20 gods are definitely people) simply do not have the patience.

        On the other hand, building a religion is – in d20 terms – basically like building up any other dominion. If you pick (or build) a few frontier Thorps, they probably don’t have any real overlord yet – and (again, disregarding those borked rules for Druids and Rangers) they almost certainly don’t have any high-level characters hanging around. Offer them protection, pour in a little support, and you are on your way. Small settlements may not have any Clerics at all, and even if they do they will never be above level three. This gives starting deities an excellent chance; major deities have a lot less time to spend on small groups of worshipers while clerics capable of casting fourth level spells do not appear until you reach Small Cities – and even then there aren’t many of them.

        Unless there’s some sort of “major gods only!” rule in the setting (such as in the Forgotten Realms) it is much to the advantage of the rural population to have lots of little, local, deities who will actually take an interest in their tiny settlements rather than simply participating in larger faiths. Of course, there is a counterbalancing factor built into Eclipse: older gods usually have some investment in Greater Endowment – keeping minor gods from taking over by making worshiping an entire pantheon a very good idea.

        Thus many villages will have a minor cult or two, with minor gods attempting to elbow their way into the primary pantheon. That won’t be particularly notable, or even unexpected.

        Hm… I may have to turn some of these questions-and-responses into articles; there’s enough information in them that it probably shouldn’t all be buried in the comments.

      • That seems to make sense…
        I haven’t run into many beggars or street children in most games, if at all. Probably because many children in those games are supposed to remind the heroes what they’re fighting for in the first place.

        Now looking up at the list of characters, I find mine in another category: The Mega-Witch, the template-part in particular. So I wonder, is the ECL-Penality in addition to the regular ECL-Penality you gain from Ridden by the Loa? Or rather, is there even a regular ECL-Penality on that ability? I always believed there was, because you assumed the template with all the problems that come with it…

      • Short-term users normally don’t have to worry about it, just as a spellcaster using a lycanthropic transformation or Greater Visage spell doesn’t incur an ECL penalty. If you’re running it all the time it would apply, just like a permanent lycanthropic or half-celestial/infernal transformation would carry an ECL penalty. It’s rare for a character to really fun such an ability all the time though.

        The Page 163 ECL penalty is really more or less a way to try to accommodate serious optimizers; if a large part of their fun is building a hyper-efficient character, then they may do so – but if the rest of the players are less into that, then assigning an ECL penalty will let them optimize to their hearts content while allowing everyone else to remain on equal terms. In itself it doesn’t really have anything to ECL penalties for applying templates. Thus, while both could apply in theory, it generally isn’t necessary.

      • Sounds logical… oh well, even a +8/+9/+10 ECL-Penality would be worth it in my case.
        Even if this is mainly because of my incredible impatience and the fact that my character is designed to not have that much power-based advancement anyway – he’ll probably buy nothing but Warcraft, Skill Points and Saves for the rest of the game.

        Looking at Shapeshifters, I realized something: If I were to be using a character that has Godfire, Hysteria and can cast Forge Avatar and Grandiose Summoning,then I can use the Grandiose Summoning to summon a few creatures of my choice, use Forge Avatar to gain their abilities and then utilize Hysteria to double my Godfire’s “Life”-Option to pass these abilities on to a set of creatures and… well, make them breed so they stop being unique, right?
        It is something I may be guilty of doing before (and it isn’t the craziest thing I have done to keep my followers loyal), so I was wondering if that was intended use or not.

      • It wasn’t really “intended” as such – but Eclipse IS all about assembling the pieces to get what you want, and it’s a perfectly valid combination. An unusual approach as well! Most of our monster-makers have gone in for rituals, or stacking templates on Companions and using a Wish to get them to be passed on to offspring, or using lots of lower level spells in sequence to perform genetic engineering, or (in scientific settings) have gone in for more technical methods.

        I think the last one in d20 was a young lady in the Manifold setting who decided that she wanted to make NeoCats to go with the NeoDogs and Neodolphins. That turned into quite a project.

  2. […] we look to the first and second post on about character concepts in Eclipse: The Codex Persona. There are a […]

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