Darth Vader and Eclipse d20

Star Wars - Darth Vader

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. One recent request was for Darth Vader as “he would have been if he hadn’t been so severely injured”. Now this one is sort of awkward; even if there were some agreed-on base statistics for Darth Vader in the first place, this would take us into pure speculative extrapolation territory – even presuming that he didn’t reform, retire, and take up a new career as an electronics engineer. After all, he apparently had quite a talent for that too.

. First up, which version of Darth are we talking about? The original-trilogy version? Including the later prequels? Including the expanded universe novels? Including comic book appearances? Including his encounter with the energizer bunny? Including Video-Game powers? Including fan-fiction?

. Perhaps fortunately, I haven’t read anywhere NEAR all of the expanded-universe stuff, or the comics, or (thank god) the fan-fiction. I don’t play many video games, and I think I can discount the appearance with the energizer bunny. That leaves turning Darth Vader as he appeared in the movies into Darth Vader the d20 character.

. There are, of course, multiple published versions – most notably, several more-or-less official versions from licensed star wars game systems.

. The trouble with those versions are pretty simple: the original Star Wars universe is a low-power, semi-plausible (or “rubber science”), and reasonably realistic world. At it’s most basic, that means that “going up in level” is vanishingly rare; the vast majority of the population is level one at best, a single direct hit from a high-powered weapon will take out anyone, and even minor special powers are a pretty big deal.
. On the other hand, the primary characters are generally fairly competent, have good attributes – and are normally lucky beyond belief. That’s not necessarily a “power” of theirs in the source material; it’s simply that die rolls and background are under the control of the author and the plot rather than up to whatever randomizing system your game system of choice uses.
. This generally doesn’t work in a game, where some form of “experience system” or “leveling up” is pretty much expected. In long-term games, player characters tend to start off competent, and – all too soon – become near-godlike.
. That means that most conversions suffer pretty badly along the way. Either the “End Bosses” get their abilities inflated far beyond what the source material really justifies or the game system gets nerfed so as to put the bad guys at the top of the power scale. Neither is really a good choice, which is why I usually don’t use characters from non-game sources as major opponents – but if I must, I prefer to nerf the game system, perhaps by using the Low-Level Adventurer Template. There’s not much point in using characters from a source if I’m going to turn them into something unrecognizable anyway.

. Of course, Darth Vader may well have had a lot of powers that he didn’t show onscreen. That’s one of the major problems with such conversions; it’s pretty hard to say what powers a literary or cinematic character MIGHT have.

. It’s a lot easier to determine a list of upper limits. Just off the top of my head…

. We know that Darth Vader was NOT:

  • A strong enough telepath to simply pull the information he wanted out of Leia’s mind.
  • A strong enough telekinetic to simply de-spin a starfighter.
    • For that matter, Palpatine was supposed to be stronger than Darth was – and he didn’t seem to have enough telekinesis to fly; all the large items that he moved about seemed to either be light or had built-in repulsor drives. Yoda and Luke’s starfighter are a possible exception – but that could be a special stunt, or it could be that starfighters simply are relatively light thanks to being built out of advanced materials; it lets them accelerate and maneuver faster.
  • A good enough clairvoyant to simply locate the rebel alliance – which also eliminates things like Hypercognition.
  • Capable of teleportation – even at short ranges.
  • Capable of regenerating his body.
  • He couldn’t tell that Luke was his son on their first encounter.

. In fact, there’s quite a list of possible d20 abilities – even limiting ourselves to psychic abilities – which Darth Vader pretty definitely does not have. No high-order healing, dimensional travel, or time manipulation. He apparently can’t simply take over someone else’s body, he has to use slow-motion telekinetic strangulation rather than simple death effects, he can’t simply rewrite memories, entrance servants, dominate wills, entrap foes in ectoplasm, use reliable clairvoyance, or throw massive area-effect energy attacks. He can’t create private pocket dimensions, or bend reality, or shapeshift, or turn into shadows. He can’t phase through solid matter, create it, or annihilate it with a wave of his hand. He can’t use Psychic Reformation, or even see in all directions at once – or Luke couldn’t have sprung out at him unexpectedly.

. In the movies, Darth never demonstrates any force powers which – in d20 – exceed level two effects except for one; strangling someone on another starship over a video link. That’s actually pretty classic for psychic powers (“you can affect anything that you’re perceiving of in real time, regardless of actual distances”), but it’s hard in a game system, where considerations of “game balance” usually call for letting even the most untalented individuals shoot back when attacked. That’s just going to have to be a special stunt. Fortunately, Eclipse has rules for that.

. Now, the video games include a lot of level three stuff, and the comic books include effects of up to epic level – such as Palpatine invoking force-storms that could destroy planets – but if he could do that, why did he bother building a death star in the first place?

. Overall, that gives us a quick, clear, hierarchy in classical d20:

  • Untrained force sensitives can use cantrip-level effects.
  • Trained characters – like most Jedi – can use first-level effects.
  • Master-level characters, like our injured version of Darth, or Obi-Wan, can use second-level effects.
  • Grand Masters – such as Palpatine and Yoda at their peaks – can use third-level effects.
  • Transcendent Masters – such as Darth apparently had the potential to become – may be able to use fourth, or perhaps even fifth, level effects. It’s hard to say exactly; the movies never showed us what such a character might actually be able to do.

. Literary and cinematic characters tend to blur the lines whenever it’s convenient for the storyline, but if you want to incorporate that into a game, all you need is a “stunts” rule; In Eclipse that just means that the character took Action Hero and the Stunts option, or some similar occasional-use temporary power booster,- and thus can occasionally pull off something otherwise impossible.

. In a conversion, “lucky” had better be a power; players expect their characters, and their major opponents, to be able to do the kind of things that the characters do in the source material pretty routinely – despite the fact that the source material, naturally enough, focuses on the more unlikely, dramatic, and exciting moments.

. So; For an uninjured Darth Vader, we’ll want…

  • Luck with +8 Bonus Uses (18 CP). That will let him pull off the occasional fantastic stunt., take 20 to shoot missiles into exhaust ports, and so on. It will also let him build droids as a kid – simply by taking 20 on the relevant rolls, pilot podraces effectively, and otherwise be astoundingly competent.
  • Block, Melee and Missile with two levels of Multiple on each (24 CP, with the Multiple Specialized for Half Cost – only while using a lightsaber). Realistic characters can’t take monstrous amounts of damage – but they do get missed a great deal. Block works for that, since it doesn’t matter if it’s a literal block or just ducking; the point is that a shot which might well have killed you misses. In a game, and combined with Luck, this might even be a bit too good, since Luck will let it work reliably. Still, he doesn’t have all THAT much luck.
  • That will also call for Reflex Training/the Combat Reflexes variant (6 CP), as well as a good dexterity. Still, good attributes pretty much come with “major character” status in virtually every game; taking the roll of a feeble idiot isn’t much fun.
  • Action Hero/Stunts will let him pull off the occasional never-to-be-repeated trick, escape situations that should have killed him, and be really impressive sometimes. With stunts he can strangle an admiral at long range, survive a podracer crash or massive lava injuries, last long enough to throw the emperor into the pit, and survive death as a free spirit. This runs into problems if level advancement is very slow however, since you only get a limited number of stunts per level. Ergo, we may want to use an Inherent Spell that temporarily bestows a feat effect, but is only usable a few times a day. That version doesn’t call for regular level advancement, but costs more than Action Hero – a total of (18 CP) for a daily allotment of one minor, one intermediate, and one major stunt. That seems about right.
  • Occult Sense/Force Sense (6 CP): Darth can sense force disturbances, when people who are strong with the force are nearby, and is pretty difficult to surprise.
  • Now, Darth is pretty tough – but he has to use his powers to resist force lightning (and gets overwhelmed by it at the end), and blocks attacks rather than just tanking them, even with battle armor on. We’re not really looking at any tremendous quantity of hit points. Lets give him a twenty-sided hit die at level one (16 CP) and thereafter let things fall where they may.
  • We’re not looking at grandmaster level swordsmanship either. There’s no reason why that lightsaber should weigh anything at all – yet the lightsaber duels are pretty slow compared to even a college-level fencing tournament. Real fencers don’t have a lot of time or attention to spare for conversation. In d20? I’d give him about a +6 BAB (36 CP), a Lightsaber Martial Art (just spend a few skill points), and good attributes. That will give him a +14 /+9 or so (even without equipment bonuses) – compared to normal thugs and stormtroopers with their +2 or so. In other words, they won’t hit often, and he’ll hit a lot.
  • I’ll throw in a few levels of Defender too (18 CP); that will give him an extra +6 AC or so, which will mean that – with a decent Dex and Armor – normal folks will only be able to hit him with a natural 20.
  • He doesn’t show much evidence of being all that skilled though; when you’re that lucky, do you really need to be?

. Now, as for his “force powers” – well, those are a little harder.
. The Witchcraft system in Eclipse would handle everything he actually does (and a great deal of stuff that he doesn’t) quite easily – but if I use that, I’ll have to go through it and pick out just what powers he actually does have. That’s dull, and is sure to lead to him not fitting into some games.
. Ergo, I’m going to take the quick-and-dirty method – the Path of the Dragon. We’ll want Shaping (6 CP), Pulse of the Dragon III (to let him freely power effects of up to level three, for 6 + 12 + 24 CP), Heart of the dragon III (Specialized for Double Effect, to let him freely shape effects of up to level four, for 6 + 12 + 24 CP), and Blood of the Dragon (6 CP) – which will let him invoke those fourth level effects every so often, but not quite freely.
. That’s… 90 CP. Ouch. Of course, this would let him produce pretty much any effect of up to level four that he wanted, any time – and he doesn’t do that. Ergo, the entire mess is corrupted and specialized to reduce the first steps to one-third cost; and the Heart of the Dragon part to two-thirds cost double effect it can drag you to the dark side unless you spend your entire life in monastic self-denial, comes with weird self-fulfilling visions, can only be used to produce in-theme “force effects”, requires some kind of skill check or concentration check to use, and gets you locked in to assorted “destinies” whether you like it or not. That brings the cost down to 44 CP.
. In Eclipse, all that adds up to… 186 CP. Presuming you bought almost nothing else, that gives us a minimum level of seven (six if you used your bonus feats getting his base powers rather than on buying extras). Of course, he’d need to be level seven to use fourth level powers safely anyway.
. Personally, I think spending some points on reflex saves, and perhaps fortitude and will, buying d6 hit dice,  throwing in weapon and armor proficiencies, and adding in a few extra skill points is in order – which will give us a base level of about ten. That’s “Action Movie Hero” verging on “Comic Book Superhero” (for a breakdown on power levels, look HERE).
. The partially-crippled version probably clocks in at about level six or seven – just past the point where a character starts to go from “Astounding Hero” to “Action Movie Hero”. Looking at the movies, I’d say that fits quite nicely.

. Now, one thing this build doesn’t quite account for is young Anakin taking out a fleet – pretty much by himself. By accident.
. And yes, that was pretty ridiculous.
. What does account for that stunt is a combination of factors:

  • The fleet – like so many other major items in Star Wars – seems to have been built with the equivalent of a big red self-destruct button. I’m going to presume that this is some requirement of star wars engineering, not a character power. The alternative is just too silly.
  • The droid-piloted ships were depending on instruments and central command to pick targets, and so a stunt – unconsciously using his nascent powers to blank his ships signature – would let young Anakin take a ship he could barely control though the battle without being shot at much.
  • The player/director had Anakin spend luck like mad on taking “accidental” shots.
  • Yes, this requires a certain amount of game-master/director connivance, but – in star wars – the rest of the galaxy is basically a backdrop for the focus characters, and only exists to make them look cool. For a less “gamey” explanation, we can just presume that it’s a big galaxy (if you want to think about just HOW big, there’s an article on that over HERE)- and we’re just following the adventures of the one kid in a thousand in a vaguely similar situation who DIDN’T just get blown to bits.

 

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