Eclipse d20 – Ability Exchange

Hecate, illustration by Stéphane Mallarmé, in ...

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Something that comes up fairly often – especially with inexperienced players making characters – is the desire to drop old abilities and replace them with new ones.

Now that’s not unreasonable; unpracticed skills and abilities often become rusty over time, and – eventually – are forgotten or atrophy into near-uselessness. They rarely go away entirely though – and are usually fairly easy to rebuild, at least to a point. There’s some truth to the old routine about “you never forget how to ride a bicycle”.

That’s something that there’s no formal rule for in Eclipse. You’re always free to upgrade existing abilities, you can use a ritual, spell, or psionic ability that lets you forget old abilities and replace them with new ones, and you can gain temporary abilities in a variety of ways – but there’s no set mechanical method of simply forgetting things and spending the points elsewhere.

I’ll usually let characters trade around a few points every so often – but how often that’s appropriate depends a lot of how fast the characters are advancing. It’s also something that requires cooperation between the player and the game master.

For example…

  • A player who finds that they’ve purchased abilities that they never actually use, or bought powers that don’t actually reflect their character conception, can pretty much have that adjusted on request. If you aren’t doing that already – in pretty much any game system where you don’t just roll randomly for everything – you probably ought to be.
  • If a character purchased special privileges as a Noble of Kalrynth, but discovered that Kalrynth was scheming to bring about a horrific apocalypse and turned against them, it would definitely be time to turn those points into something else. How about contacts with a friendly group opposed to Kalrynth? Perhaps a sacred blessing? A new ally? Those are all throughly rational ways to shift a few points.
  • An aging fighter-turned-politician might take some points off his (presumably high) base attack bonus to buy contacts and social abilities, but he or she is pretty unlikely to forget the basics of combat, or lose his or her racial abilities, or inherent magical powers, or a lot of other things.

Simply letting some abilities atrophy while you work on new ones is a lot more problematic. Quite a lot of games feature a meteoric rise; characters may start off as inexperienced beginners and rise to mighty overlords over the course of (at most) a few game years.

I’ve played with a d20 group that – more or less as an experiment – simply tried to level as fast as possible for a bit. The characters made nine levels over the course of nearly five weeks of game time. That’s not too unexpected – the game is built around “so many encounters make a level” after all, and the characters did nothing but dash from one encounter to the next as quickly as they could find another string of them or a powerful monster in the wilderness – but it does mean that a level-based system for ability-atrophy would have been wildly inappropriate.

On the other hand, I’ve also played with groups that routinely spent six months or more on between-adventure downtime. One, very high-level (and almost entirely elven), group spent several centuries waiting for another worthy challenge to arise. Now, none of them WANTED to rebuild their characters – but it certainly would have been enough time to retrain themselves if they’d wanted to. Once again, a level-based system for ability-atrophy wouldn’t have worked.

Now, if I put in a rule that simply allowed rewrites over time, characters could potentially just take some time off and completely transform themselves – which doesn’t work too well either.

That’s why, on this one, there is no hard-and-fast rule – and there isn’t going to be. If you want to change old point-expenditures, you’re just going to have to persuade your game master that what you want to do is reasonable.

Any role-playing gamer who isn’t reasonably good at that will probably need (yet another) new character in very short order anyway.

4 Responses

  1. […] Retraining and Exchanging Old Abilities: When you want to rewrite your character a bit. […]

  2. Actually, doesn’t Returning have the option to do that? I mean, Babe in Arms does it too, but it would require some dedication to get that working correctly.

    • Oh yes – and there are several templates and characters on the blog (such as the Time Lord and the Shadowed Galaxy Mummy) that use it like that – but that is just like buying access to Psychic Reformation, or learning a ritual; it’s a special ability of individual characters, rather than a general rule for Retraining. Character advancement just varies too much from campaign to campaign for a really good general rule.

  3. […] Of course you can buy this as a power for retraining: Returning with Major (50% of available character points) Rewrite, Specialized and Corrupted / usable once every three levels at most, if the user actually dies it only works if the body was not recovered and the cause was weird and mystical (being disintegrated in a dimensional vortex, fine, devoured by something, not so good) and the new abilities purchased must relate to the cause of “death”, otherwise requires at least two months of downtime (and more is better) and is restricted to changing out learned abilities (6 CP). You can read more about retraining (and why a reliable method of doing so is treated as a special power) over HERE. […]

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