Cold Iron Heroics and Eclipse

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There’s a recent request for an Iron Heroes conversion.

That’s actually slightly tricky.

A basic aspect of that system is that the PC’s generally don’t get any magic. If they try to use magic, or “useful” magic items, or to learn magical abilities, or allow “beneficial” magic to be used on them, it is likely to blow up in their – or the caster’s – faces or have horrible side effects. The systems two magic-using classes aren’t suggested as mainstream options and spend most of their time carefully NOT using any magic (I.E. being useless and boring to play), saving the dangerous (and not all that terribly potent) magical option for when there isn’t any choice.

So Iron Heroes classes are designed to work without magic, yet to be able to face the same challenges that standard d20 characters can face. If you let them wander over into a “normal” d20 world, where they can readily pick up magic items, and get buffed by local allies, and learn some decent magic that would be a problem – or at least it would if the game master failed to ask WHY they didn’t normally use magic. After all, aliens, supernatural beings, and other visitors can use magic in their original setting quite normally.

The reason why is actually pretty simple; their problems with magic “blowing up in their faces” or having “horrible side effects” are not symptoms of the state of magic in the setting; they’re symptoms of the fact that the local inhabitants – in contrast to supernatural visitors – are incapable of properly accepting or using the stuff. If a normal d20 caster attempts to use beneficial magic on an Iron Hero it’s going to have relatively little effect – perhaps a third of normal at best, and more likely a quarter – and may well backfire or go horribly wrong. Magical items, incapable of compensating for that built-in resistance, are CERTAIN to have horrible side effects on the Hero.

The same goes for psychic powers, high technology, channeling energy, the higher-order bardic-style powers, and every other advanced method of manipulating the world, whether it’s called “technology” or “magic”.

In other words, if an Iron Hero visits a standard d20 world, and attempts to wear a simple Belt of +4 Strength, he or she will find that – for him or her – it has terrible drawbacks. Accepting a quick “heal” from the party cleric, or traveling by teleportation, is all to likely to have dreadful side effects on him or her (as is passing through a rift or gate to reach a standard d20 universe in the first place). The same goes for attempting to pilot planes, operate computers, get cybernetics implanted, learn semi-supernatural stunts, be psychically rejuvenated, and so on.

His or her local friends will have no such troubles.

For that matter, they really can’t take any other modifiers either; hat this pretty well preempts all other possible point-boosting modifiers – so an Iron Hero generally cannot take Fast Learner, or Duties or Restrictions, or Adept. They replace racial modifiers with a pair of “traits”, which are usually worth anything from 6-12 CP – with a total well within the bounds for a +0 ECL race. They can look weird if they want to though.

Fortunately, an Iron Hero does not need such crutches!

That’s because this inability to use most gear, to participate in any plot that requires the use of “magic”, or to take other special modifiers or races, amounts to a colossal specialization on everything they buy. That will often mean that they’re using double-specialization (requiring special permission from the game master), but that’s not an especially big problem compared to their basic limitations.

For purposes of calculation and illustration, I’m going to just double their point allowance to illustrate the basic costs of their abilities and apply that grand specialization to half the cost when it comes to the final total. That gives us a pretty large pile of points to spend to duplicate an Iron Hero… 1008 to be exact.

That’s pretty good, even if they can’t have any decent special abilities.

Where does this huge pile of points wind up?

Well, the original request was for a conversion of the Harrier, so I’ll use them as an example:

For the basics, they get…

  • +20 Warcraft/BAB. That’s 120 CP.
  • +20 to each save. That’s 180 CP.
  • A Defense (Dodge) Bonus of +17 at level 20. That’s 84 CP worth of Defender.
  • +8 Skill Points per Level. That’s 184 CP.
    • Of course, they also gain access to two Skill Groups – Agility (Balance, Escape Artist, and Tumble) and Athletics (Climb, Jump, and Swim) – which offers them a three-for-one deal on skill point expenditures. Given that there’s no reason at all NOT to take that bargain if you want ANY skill in a group (and you will virtually always want at least one), that’s the equivalent of +4 skill points per level – another 80 CP bonus.
  • (1d4+4) Hit Points per level. That’s the basic 1d4 you get for free and 160 CP worth of Toughness. It’s also mechanically equivalent to a d12, which would work out just the same.
  • Proficiency with All Simple Weapons and a Limited Set of Martial Weapons (6 CP) and Light Armor (3 CP).
  • An Iron Hero gets “reserve points” – which basically amount to “if you stay quiet you can heal at one point per minute up to a daily maximum equal to your hit points”. To buy that take Grant of Aid with the Mighty modifier, Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect; restores hit point damage only, damage only heals at one point per minute and only during rest or quiet activities, only up to a maximum per day equal to the user’s base hit points. That will provide a reserve of some (10 + Con Mod) points per level – which will pretty well cover it at a cost of 9 CP.
  • An Iron Hero is resistant to “Instant Death” effects; if they’re petrified, it wears off after a few days, death magic tends to leave them barely alive, and so on. This won’t keep a determined attacker from killing them – smashing the statue will leave them unable to revive, and you can just stab the pest who’s barely clinging to life after meeting a horrors death-gaze – but they usually get a second shot. That’s Returning (6 CP).
  • An Iron Hero gets to overstrain themselves; they can opt to take damage of one kind or another on an attribute check in exchange for a bonus. That’s a Specialized version of Hysteria, in all three basic forms – at a total cost of (9 CP).

An Iron Hero also gets to use “Challenges” and “Stunts” – but that’s nothing new at all; way back in the earliest days of RPG’s, you could hear the perennial cry of overworked game masters; “you want to do WHAT?!? OK, fine, you can try it, but at a minus ten!”.

  • In other words, if you want a better result, you make the roll harder. That’s a “Challenge”. If you want to do something the rules don’t quite cover, or to use a skill to get some minor bonus that the rules don’t quite cover (I tumble past him and hack at his ankles while I’m going by to slow him down for a few rounds!), that’s a “Stunt”.
  • The book has a brief list of more-or-less standard “Challenges” and “Stunts”, but pretty much any game master will have simply been winging this sort of thing for years for every character – and so access to “Challenges” and “Stunts” has no cost.

An Iron Hero gets to build on old feats, expanding pretty much every one of them with a variety of options.

  • Of course, Eclipse lets you build on any ability you like, adding whatever options suit you, rather than being limited to a particular list. There’s no cost there.

That’s 841 CP right there – and pretty much the norm for an Iron Hero. Admittedly, those points are not being spent for anything approaching maximum efficiency, but there’s something to be said for sticking to the basics; it doesn’t narrow your options the way point-efficiency does.

OK, so it’s time for a look at the class features. Those include:

Combat Speed:

  • +40′ move (Celerity, with Improved III, Specialized/doesn’t help long-range travel, can’t be used for more than ten minutes at a time alternating with normal-speed intervals, quits working if using medium or heavy armor or carry a heavy load (7 CP).
  • OK, that was nice and cheap.

Combat Mobility:

  • Whenever you provoke an attack of opportunity due to movement, you gain a +4 bonus to defense against that attack. In addition, you can move at normal speed while using the Tumble skill without penalty and you gain double your Dexterity bonus to Tumble checks.
  • That comes in at least three bits.
    • A +4 AC bonus against AOO due to your movement is a Specialized version of Evasive (at the twelve-point level) and so costs (6 CP).
    • Being able to move at normal speed while making Tumble checks That’s Immunity/the movement penalty for Tumbling (Common, Minor, Major, 6 CP).
    • Gaining double your normal Dexterity bonus to tumble checks is a bit harder, and requires special permission. That’s Immunity/the restriction against adding the same attribute to skills more than once (Very Common, Major, Major, Specialized and Corrupted/only for Tumble only, 4 CP) plus Augmented Bonus – adds (Dex Mod) to dexterity -based skills, Specialized and Corrupted/only for Tumble (2 CP).
  • Now the whole thing is Corrupted/quits working if using medium or heavy armor or carry a heavy load, for a net total of (12 CP).

Mobile Assault:

  • When you use a move action to move and then a standard action to attack, you gain a bonus to your attack equal to the number of squares you moved up to a maximum equal to your level. This bonus lasts until the start of your next action. For this purpose, only the number of new squares entered counts. Dodging back and forth doesn’t help. You cannot use any Power feats while using this ability and quits working if using medium or heavy armor or carry a heavy load.
  • Now this one is tricky mostly because it’s actually quite easy in standard d20 to boost your move, to gain immunity to provoking attacks of opportunity while moving past opponents… heck, you can even find ways to become immaterial while moving so that walls and barriers won’t hinder you – and the bonus is typeless and Eclipse characters just have levels; they’re ALWAYS in their own persona class.
  • In other words, buying this the way’s its written corresponds to just buying a +(level) bonus to hit when you move and attack, even if an Iron Hero has a harder time taking full advantage of that than a normal d20 character – but a normal d20 character can buy this power too.
  • That’s going to be expensive.
  • To build this monstrosity, we’ll want +20 BAB (and GM permission again, since this will greatly exceed the normal limits), Specialized and Corrupted/only works with single attacks after moving, movement limits as above, armor and encumbrance limits as above, maximum of +1 per character level, for a total of (40 CP).
  • Now, if you wanted to buy something like this in normal d20, I’d buy Advanced Augmented Bonus (adds Dex Mod to Str Mod for Attack checks, Specialized and Corrupted in the same ways for Triple Effect – for a net cost of 12 CP and, potentially, a better bonus, although that would depend on having a very high dexterity modifier. Still, if you’re buying this sort of power, a high dexterity is certainly going to be on the shopping list anyway.

Mobile Defense:

  • Taking a move action grants you a dodge bonus equal to half the number of squares you moved until the start of your next action. The mode of movement does not matter.
  • This is subject to the same limitations as Mobile Assault, above.
  • It’s also subject to the same caveats.
  • Not surprisingly, the purchase looks about the same – although we only need a +10 maximum (ten levels of Defender), and so we need only spend (20 CP).
  • There are more efficient ways to buy something like this too – but we’re duplicating the original build here, nor replacing or upgrading it.

Whirling Attack:

  • When you use the Tumble skill to move through an opponent’s threatened area without provoking an attack of opportunity as part of a move action, and then attack him with your standard action, you gain a +2 bonus to your attack and deal +1d6 points of damage.
  • This one’s easy; that’s Augmented Attack (+2 to Hit, 6 CP) and +1d6 Damage (3 CP), for a grand total of (9 CP).

Running Assault:

  • As a full-round action, you can move your normal speed. At any point during this movement, you can use a standard action to attack. You can move both before and after this attack. You gain the benefits of abilities such as mobile assault based on the squares you moved before your attack. This quits working if you’re using medium or heavy armor or carry a heavy load.
  • That’s Split Movement, Corrupted as above (4 CP). Another easy one.

Rapid Assault:

  • When you use a standard action to attack, you may strike twice instead of once if you are using a light of finesse weapon – but both attacks, and any other attacks (such as attacks of opportunity) you make before your next action, suffer a -4 penalty. This quits working if you’re using medium or heavy armor or carry a heavy load.
  • That’s Bonus Attack, Specialized and Corrupted (penalty is -4 instead of -2, weapon restrictions, and armor / equipment restrictions) for increased effect; you get an extra attack in a quite general situation (when using a standard action to attack), rather than a more specific one (6 CP).

Superior Mobility:

  • Your dodge bonus against attacks of opportunity provoked by movement increases to +6 and you can move at full speed when using the Climb and Balance skills without penalty. This quits working if you’re using medium or heavy armor or carry a heavy load.
  • Well, first off, that reduces the Specialization on the Evasive part of Combat Mobility to “Corrupted”, at a cost of (2 CP).
  • We’ll also want to upgrade the four point  Immunity/the movement penalty for Tumbling to Immunity/the movement penalty for using Skills (Very Common, Minor, Major, +6 CP)

Steel Dancer:

  • If an opponent makes an Attack of Opportunity against you with a weapon at least one size category larger than you are when you are tumbling through his or her threatened area, and you beat his attack check with your tumble check by five of more, you may spend 5′ of movement to attack him or her while negating his or her dodge bonuses, and then continue your move.
  • That’s going to have a couple of components.
  • That’s Opportunist – you get to make a free attack in an unusual situation (AOO with larger weapon while tumbling that’s beaten by your tumbling check by five or more), which is only (6 CP).
  • Negating somebodies dodge bonuses – that would be (Dex Mod) and any other active-defense bonuses – is Immunity/Dodge Bonuses (Very Common, Minor, and – since dodge bonuses are a big thing for an Iron Hero – Legendary. It also, like most immunities to other people’s defenses, requires special permission from the game master. Fortunately, this is Specialized and Corrupted /it only applies to the Opportunist-enabled attack and costs 5′ of movement. That’s still 16 CP).

Cross Attack Maneuver:

  • Once per round, when the user succeeds on Tumble check to avoid an attack of opportunity by five or more, he or she can redirect that attack against any target that both you and the attacker currently threaten.
  • That’s Opportunist again; you can take an action that you are not normally allowed to take (redirecting an opponents failed attack) under a particular circumstance. That’s (6 CP).

Swooping Assault:

  • If you use an action to move and then a second action to attack you may replace your strength bonus to damage (or multiplied strength bonus for two-handed weapons) with the number of unique squares you just moved. This doesn’t work if you’re using medium or heavy armor or are carrying a heavy load.
  • This one is going to be awkward simply because there’s nothing stopping the user from gaining a nigh-limitless bonus if he or she can just stack up enough movement. In fact, strictly from the wording of the original ability (“You gain the swooping assault bonus only if you use an action to move, then a second action to attack.”) there’s nothing wrong with combining this with – say – a Run action last round, and thus scoring a +70 or more damage bonus for each shot of your full attack. Somehow I doubt that the intent of the maneuver was to let the user run up to a castle wall and smash it down with a pocket knife. For that matter, as written, it applies to thrown weapons. Ergo, I’m going to assume a maximum based on a simple move and the limitations of the original class and that it only applies to melee weapons.
  • That’s Augmented Attack/+15 damage when you move at least one square per point of bonus you get to use, Specialized and Corrupted/not usable when using medium or heavy armor or carrying a heavy load, replaces strength bonus rather than augmenting it, only usable with melee weapons, only usable immediately after moving (not next round that is) for a net cost of (5 CP).

Superior Running Assault:

  • You may make a full attack while moving at your full speed; each attack may be resolved at separate locations along your path.
  • Probably the simplest way to build this one is another combination – Reflex Training/user gets a bonus move action when making a full attack (6 CP), Immunity/the usual restrictions of Reflex Training (“when making a full attack” really stretches my notions of what “some particular circumstances” means), which would be (Very Common/Minor/Major, for 12 CP), and Split Movement – but by this point in the build, the character already has that; it’s a part of Running Assault. Fortunately, both of those are Corrupted/as usual, they don’t work if you’re using medium or heavy armor or are carrying a heavy load. That brings the net point cost down to (12 CP).

Tumbling Assault:

  • When you tumble through an  area occupied by a foe without provoking an attack of opportunity, you gain a +4 bonus hit and a +2d6 bonus to damage on your attacks against that foe provided that you make them as a standard action after your tumble-movement. That’s Augmented Attack again, with a base cost of (18 CP)

Superior Rapid Assault:

  • When you make a Rapid Assault (Q.V.) you may make two bonus attacks in exchange for increasing the penalty on those, and subsequent attacks of opportunity, to -6. That’s another level of Bonus Attack, Corrupted in the same fashion but not Specialized (since it doesn’t abnormally increase the penalty) for a net cost of (4 CP).

Now let me see… That’s 832 (Basics) + 12 (Combat Mobility) +40 (Mobile Assault) +20 (Mobile Defense) +9 (Whirling Attack) +4 (Running Assault) +6 (Rapid Assault) +8 (Superior Mobility) +22 (Steel Dancer) +6 (Cross Attack Maneuver) +5 (Swooping Assault) +12 (Superior Running Assault) +18 (Superior Running Assault) +4 (Superior Rapid Assault).

That’s a grand total of 1007 CP – or 503 out 504 after that massive Specialization of theirs is applied.

Thus, at least by Eclipse standards, we have here a reasonably balanced class IF – and it’s a pretty big IF – that gigantic overall Specialization is appropriate.

So is it?

Remember, in theory, an Iron Hero is supposed to be able to face the same kind of challenges that a normal d20 group can face.

In fact, this really isn’t true; they can face the same kind of basic combat scenarios that a mixed group of standard high-level d20 characters can face – but something as simple as a high-level Sorcerer who teleports to his distant stronghold, turns on a scrying effect, and starts conjuring demons to teleport in to attack them, will wipe them out.

  • You wish to exorcise a possessing spirit from a child?
  • You wish to seal a mystical rift into a dark dimension?
  • You wish to seek answers from a long-dead mystic?
  • You wish to assail a flying citadel a mile above?
  • You wish to remove a terrible curse, such as lycanthropy?
  • You wish to turn someone from a statue back into living flesh?
  • You wish to find an evil sorcerers hidden heart – but have no idea where in the world it might be located?
  • You wish to fight an opponent who’s dispatching minions from his or her extradimensional fortress?
  • You wish to wish to create a work of art that will influence generations to come?
  • You wish to create a healing spring as a legacy for your village after your death?
  • You wish to seal a deathless demon into a boulder?
  • You wish to calm the seas and strengthen the ship so as to bring it into port through a legendary storm?
  • You wish to adventure on the elemental plane of fire or in some other really hostile environment?

Then you, as an Iron Hero, are out of luck.

“Normal” d20 characters can routinely use magical transport, channel positive energy, resort to arcane commands, perform rituals, cast spells, wield  mighty divinations, speak with elementals, spirits, and gods, employ bardic abilities, wander the dimensions, leave enchanted legacies and relics, create fabulous strongholds, bind spirits, and much more.

An Iron Hero… gets to hit things. More importantly, all their friends also… get to hit things. If they’re entangled in a plot that isn’t really resolvable by combat or a skill check, or which requires the use of special methods to reach, they’re out looking for a plot device.

That means that, if you opt to play an Iron Hero in a standard d20 game, one of the consequences of that decision is that a good half to two-thirds of the time your character will be unable to come along or will simply be useless. Even if the adventure involves a lot of fighting and skill use, you often won’t even be able to get there. When your abilities are applicable, you are going to be very good indeed – and when they’re not, you will have nothing to do.

I wouldn’t encourage such a character personally. “Great occasionally, otherwise useless” is usually bad design.

Besides… this is fantasy. A large part of what makes it attractive to many people is the fact that fantasy worlds are full of magic, and exotic races, and the wonders of alien realms touching mundane reality. Telling them that they’re going to be playing a fantasy role-playing game, but that all those wonderful toys are reserved for the game master, doesn’t really seem like the best option. I like mages. That’s a major reason why I play them; they can do things that are totally impossible in real life, rather than merely being somewhat unlikely.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Shareware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. It will be updated with Eclipse III when that’s done as well

The Basic OGL


  • Open Game License v 1.0a Copyright 2000–2005, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
  • d20 System Reference Document Copyright 2000-2005, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David Noonan, Rich Redman, and Bruce R. Cordell, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.
  • Iron Heroes Revised Copyright 2007 Adam Windsor. All rights reserved.
  • Unearthed Arcana Copyright 2004 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All rights reserved.
  • Eclipse: The Codex Persona copyright 2005 by Paul Melroy and Patrick Bryant. Distributed by Distant Horizons Games.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you. This was very enlightening.

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