Eclipse Compiled; Umbra and Penumbra

Since I’m putting a combined version of Eclipse and Eclipse II into print, I thought I’d put up a bit about what it’s all about.

“Eclipse d20″ was meant to be quite literal. Most of the upcoming problems with the d20 system were obvious from the very start, and Eclipse was designed to solve as many of them as possible – while remaining back-compatible so that the monstrous heaps of villains, character write-ups, and monsters already out there would remain usable with minimal tweaking.

The way that prestige classes and feats were set up, coupled with the need to sell more books, meant that the lists of sourcebooks would get got longer and longer – and that power creep was inevitable. That also meant that the old “every game is played under a unique system of house rules” problem from earlier editions would be coming right back, first in the form of “what sourcebooks are allowed” and later in the form of specific lists of disallowed items. Everything you’d need to make any kind of character you wanted for any setting needed to be generalized, tweaked to allow for power creep, broken out of the class frameworks so the players forget about classes and prestige classes, and put into a single book.

Races, templates, and effective character level modifiers never worked quite right, in part because of the lack of a firm system for race and template design (which, once again, led to power creep), in part because templates were unequal and interacted oddly, and in part because the value of most racial abilities was constant, but the value of another level in a class – and especially in spellcasting classes – went up as the levels got higher. Races and templates needed a design system and to be set up so that racial and template abilities could be built up as easily as class-based abilities and by the same basic mechanism.

The introduction of individual turns and the concentration skill meant that Spellcasters no longer required careful protection if they were to get to use their spells, and they were given more spells – but the spells weren’t much decreased in power. That meant that combative characters would need a lot more options if they were going to keep up. Those needed to be added.

Skills were going to be progressively devalued as spells and abilities that bypassed the need for them were introduced and as character types were given special bonuses to make them good at particular roles – and everyone else worse in comparison. That meant that there needed to be some options for making skills cheaper to accommodate later builds.

You needed to cover things that d20 missed to make sure that any type of character could be played – adding options for children, changing base caster level to work like base attack bonus, allowing magical variants, introducing disadvantages and quirks to encourage characters having small flaws, providing complete coverage for metamagic, providing for playable deities, covering political abilities, allowing odd backgrounds, covering rituals and inner powers, permitting freeform spellcasting, adding low-level psychic powers, and horrendous high-level spells. You needed some alternative systems for “alignment” and some options for giving characters more motives and personalty traits.

Those all went in.

I made as much of it Open Game License as possible in hopes that it would be picked up, and thus help forestall the near-inevitable upcoming d20 collapse. Sadly, that didn’t work out – although it never had seemed likely that it would. I have been pleased to note that Eclipse still works with virtually every version of the d20 rules which has appeared since, including the “3.75″ versions which have come out since the discontinuation of the d20 license.

Eclipse does make a few demands of it’s own of course.

First up, the game master pretty much HAS to use the campaign options checklist in the back of the book and tell the players about what kind of setting and game he has in mind. Otherwise just saying “use Eclipse!” is a lot like saying “use any sourcebook ever published or imagined for any setting”. Some game masters can deal with that – but most will find that taking a party consisting of Urdon the Alien Medieval Jedi Samurai, 10110 (a cyborg computer hacker and his robotic laser-drones from a cyberpunk world), a multitalented skillmaster adult version of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, and Kadoth the Living Darkness (a quasi-demonic vigilante superhero) makes things pretty hard to make sense out of.

On the players side, they need a strong concept to start off with. It’s not like saying “Just take a Druid, they’re cool!” or even “OK, I’m a Cleric; where’s the list of decent cleric builds?”. Going into Eclipse without a good idea of what you want to build is like going into a thousand-vendor flea market with a wad of cash and trying to find the “best deals”. You’re likely to wind up with a weird assortment of incompatible bits that looked good at the time but which really don’t work together at all.

On the other hand, if you know what you want, you can almost certainly get it.

Eclipse also has a bit of a learning curve; if you’re used to point-buy systems, like GURPS or the Hero System, you should find it fairly familiar. If not, it’s probably best to start building with a good look at the free web expansion, which includes a sample level-by-level build and the reasons behind the abilities that were taken.

If that’s not enough in the way of examples there’s Eclipse II.

Eclipse II was published to provide examples of how to use the system – breaking down twenty-four standard races (although back-compatibility means simply being able to use old races and feats and such as-is as long as the game master approves), adding forty new races and hundreds of variants and an explanation of how to use them as templates, throwing in twenty magical birthrights, ten personal templates (including Narrative Powers – for those characters who simply must mess with the plotline), an assortment of more than forty fantasy and science-fiction archetypes, seventy relics (in Eclipse an entirely new type of item), fifty-four martial arts, thirty-six sample builds with their variations, level-by-level breakdowns of the SRD base classes, party templates, power packages for artificers, cyborgs, cinematic talents, psychic pilots, taskmasters, reserve feats, weapon specialists, the spirit-touched and those touched by death. You’ll also find guides on designing spellcasters, psychics, the fair folk, and more.

If there’s anything else – well, one of the reasons why this site exists is to answer gaming-related questions. They’re always welcome.

Eclipse and Eclipse II are available in a number of ways:

There’s the Freeware Edition at RPGnow or Box.Net. It’s complete, but – if you like it – it would be nice if you helped support the system by spending ten dollars to pick up the full package, which includes Eclipse, Eclipse II, the Web Expansion, and will be updated with Eclipse III when I get time to finish that up (a notification to download the package again will be sent out). There’s a review up which also briefly covers Eclipse II Here.

In print-on-demand we have the Softcover (30$), the Hardcover (35$), and the “Direct” softcover edition (24$) which uses a cheaper set of printing options to lower the price. Unfortunately, the cheap options are only available for printing in North America – so for anywhere else, the original versions are probably cheaper anyway.

Eclipse II normally comes with the Eclipse download package – but you can download the PDF on it’s own for five dollars here or buy it in Hardcover (32$) or – once again – in that cheaper North America only Softcover Edition.

By request there’s also the Combined Edition – Eclipse I and II – making sure that you have the complete system, and plenty of examples, in one volume. It’s available in Softcover (36$) and Hardcover (45$). Those are expensive but are, of course, notably cheaper than buying the books independently. Of course, only one person can use it at a time instead of two.

To make it easier to cross-reference between people using the PDF’s and those using the print versions the page numbers and indexes have not been changed. In the case of the combined edition to look at Eclipse II simply flip to the second half of the book.