Eclipse d20 – White Necromancy

An example of unsuccessful main-gauche use

Now, we'll do this another hundred times!

Today it’s a request for a mildly unusual Eclipse d20 writeup – a Wood Elf Spiritualist / Necromancer who DOESN’T dabble in negative energy, and thus is free to be a gray – or heroic – figure.

This isn’t really likely to be the version the player finally uses – the backstory is severely abridged and modified to fit a more generic d20 universe, the powers are based on the initial request and will doubtless be modified with more feedback, and so on – but character requests always become examples on the site, and the final version doesn’t much matter when it comes to an example.

Elves often take a very animistic view of things. The world, after all, is full of spirits – nature spirits, elemental spirits, sky spirits, city spirits, spirits of light and darkness, powerful ancestor spirits, sainted spirits who reach down from the higher afterlives to intervene, spirits anchored to relics from their lives, and the confused and lingering spirits of the recently dead. The gods… are distant and powerful, mighty beings who rarely speak to anyone save for their priests – who pay for their privileges and mighty powers with lifelong dedication and service.

The spirits of the material world are near at hand. Dryads and nereids and sylphs fill the woods, waters, and air, jinn haunt the deserts, spirits of thunder ride the winds of storms, and the spirits of the hearth warm their hands at the fires of every cottage. They are less mighty than the gods by far – but they are numerous, close, and inclined to answer when called upon, even if their would-be “priest” isn’t especially dedicated. Sadly most people – and even most elves – lack the talent to communicate with them.

Those who have that talent are Speakers and Shamans – and for every full shaman with a full suite of spiritual powers and the ability to call on spirits of any type there are many Speakers with far more limited talents. There are tree-speakers, fire-speakers, weather-mongers, sky-callers, earth-binders, and a hundred more minor variants.

Most such variants are quite respectable. There is nothing wrong with being a flame-speaker, especially in the dead of winter – or when your village is under attack. People may be more leery of a fire-speaker (especially of one known for poor self-control) than of a specialist who speaks with field-spirits – but that’s simply sensible caution.

Other specialties are less welcomed. In fact, some are barely tolerated at best.

Death-speakers are not popular. They often wind up as outcasts or footloose adventurers once the nature of their talents – or intentionally-developed specialty – becomes apparent. They are often, and unjustly, associated with Necromancers, despite the fact that their powers have nothing at all to do with negative energy or the undead. Deathspeakers deal with lingering spirits, call upon the dead who are still tied to the material world through various relics of the ir lives, and taps into the lingering traces of positive energy and spiritual essence found in the environment and the bodies of the dead – a more subtle power than the usual Necromantic ability to blast people with vast bolts of negative energy and raise swarms of undead horrors.

Speakers all have an innate ability to manipulate spiritual energy; they can detect spirits and spiritual energies, communicate with spirits, and channel spiritual power – their own and any ambient power which happens to be about – and use it for a modest selection of tricks. Specialists tend to be a bit stronger, but are limited to tricks related to the type of spirit involved – leaving them weak and limited compared to major spellcasters. On the other hand, the basics of their power are mostly inborn – leaving them plenty of time to develop other abilities. They need constitution, to help support and channel the energies they tap, and charisma to talk the spirits they call upon into helping them out.

Like many other varieties of relatively subtle, highly-limited, and low-upper-limit magic in the game, Deathspeakers are most readily represented by the Witchcraft system – which offers a variety of cheap and efficient, if relatively low-powered, abilities. That way they can be fairly formidable to start with, their power is low-cost and intuitive enough to be effectively described as a talent, and they can start off with access to many of their signature abilities.

Tanelis Moorinsanti (Tanelis “of the deathly fields”).

Outcast Wood Elf Deathspeaker

Wood Elf Racial Package (+0 ECL version, with the game using the Half-Price rule on buying up attributes):

  • Self-Development: +2 Strength, +2 Dexterity (12 CP).
  • Immunity/Sleep Effects (Uncommon / Minor / Major, 3 CP)
  • Occult Sense / Low-Light Vision (6 CP)
  • Proficiency with Elven Cultural Weapons (A narrow group, 3 CP)
  • +2 on Listen, Search, and Spot (6 CP) [If using standard skills]
  • +2 on Athletics, Perception, and Survival (6 CP) [Using the homebrew skills for this game]
  • Speaks Elven as an extra language (1 CP)

Available Character Points: 48 (L1 base) +2 (Duties) +10 (Disadvantages) +12 (two bonus feats, per house rules) = 72.

Basic Attributes: Str 14, Dex 16, Int 12, Wis 14, Con 16, Chr 16 (the game master is specifying a rather generous attribute array of 12, 12, 14, 14, 16, 16 here).

Basic Abilities (26 CP):

  • Hit Points: 12 (L1d12, 8 CP) +3 (Con Mod) = 15. His next few hit dice will probably be a good deal smaller, but starting out with a good-sized die is always useful.
  • BAB +0 (0 CP)
  • Saves:
  • Fortitude: +2 (Purchased, 6 CP) +3 (Con) = +5
  • Reflex: +0 (Purchased) +3 (Dex) = +3
  • Will: +2 (Purchased. 6 CP) +2 (Wis) = +2
  • Proficient with Light Armor (3 CP) and all Simple Weapons (3 CP).

At the moment, Tanelis is using Leather Armor (for a net AC of 16 derived from 10 base, +3 Dex, +2 Armor, +1 Parrying Dagger), a Longbow (+3/1d6+2), a Longsword (+2/1d8+2), and that Parrying Dagger (no effective attacks until he learns an appropriate martial art). Given that he can’t afford all that much else at level one, it can reasonably be assumed that he has a light pack, his weapons, food, water, bedroll, some rope, and a few common implements and objects.

Special Abilities:

Deathspeaker Spiritual Manipulation Package:

Witchcraft III, with two pacts: Missions (must undertake various services for the dead to help bring them to rest) and Backlash (His power draws on his own life force, and can rapidly fatigue, exhaust, or even injure him if he overuses it by entirely draining his power or by attempting to sustain too many effects long-term). (Effective net total = 6 CP).

Witchcraft III provides (Str + Dex + Con)/3 (for him, 15) Power and seven basic witchcraft abilities to work with, with a save DC of 16 (Will). In his case, those include:

  • Dreamfaring, Specialized for Enhanced Effect; he can detect and communicate with spirits in the area, sense spiritual energies (an ill-defined category, which is basically whatever the game master thinks it should be – making this ability potentially either extremely useful or virtually worthless), including spiritual links (for example, a corpses bones, or a greatly valued personal item, can often serve as a link to a spirit in the afterworlds) – but he cannot use the standard dream entry or astral projection aspects of this power. Unfortunately, this ability does not, in itself, extend to the Undead (beings powered by negative energy).
  • The Hand of Shadows, Specialized and Corrupted/only to “cast spells” which manifest as re-animating corpses or as semi-uncontrollable poltergeist effects (both at L3 for 2 power). Fresh corpses may retain some skills; older ones generally do not. In general, these can be treated as zombies – but they don’t last all that long, involve no negative energy (and so are morally neutral and impervious to “turning”, however disgusting and disquieting most people find them), and fairly often retain some vestiges of personality. Unfortunately, most corpses only retain very small amounts of life force to use – so they cease to be animated in a day or so at most. Trying to extend the duration usually requires investing a hit point or two in each corpse – and is one of the best ways to invoke the “Backlash” pact/limitation noted above. Thus this ability, while potent for a low-level ability, only really works when fresh corpses are available.
  • Glamour and the Inner Eye: Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect; these two powers are only usable for basic communications, and only with spirits – but within that field the ability has no power cost. In the immediate area this overlaps with the Dreamfaring ability – but using purely mental communications allows him to communicate over spiritual links, extending his reach into the various afterlives. It still doesn’t extend to the undead though, since they are immune to mind-affecting abilities.

Personally I’d continue with…

Healing: This is the standard Witchcraft ability with no modifiers. By concentrating small amounts of ambient life force and his own energies into a living target’s body he can provide small amounts of healing – albeit nothing like the quantities available to healing specialists and at a fair power cost.

And…

Hyloka: The standard witchcraft ability. By manipulating his own life force, and tapping into ambient energies, he can shift the balance of biophysical processes in a variety of minor ways.

Since both of those are quite useful and fit in with the ability to channel and manipulate small amounts of life force. On the other hand, if you don’t want your Deathspeaker to have any powers over living creatures at all, they’re inappropriate. Ergo substitute:

  • Elfshot, Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect/only works against disembodied spirits and the undead. Using this power allows Tanelis to disrupt spirits and the undead in a variety of ways, causing modest amounts of damage and inflicting various hindrances,
  • Witchsight, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect (no cost)/Tanelis can detect oncoming death, the progress of illnesses, and the bodies of the recently dead. In game terms, he can track the hit points of everyone in the immediate vicinity, tell at a glance if someone who’s sick will survive the night, and so on.

That leaves one power to select. In this case, we’re going to take three and specialize and corrupt them so that each only counts as one-third of a power. That’s a mildly unusual approach – but this is a mildly unusual character.

  • Shadowweave, Specialized and Corrupted/only counts as one-third of a power; can only be used to create basic spooky effects – drifting ghost-lights, spectral glows, and vague translucent apparitions.
  • Witchfire, Specialized and Corrupted/only counts as one-third of a power; can only be used to create basic spooky effects – such as odd breezes, chilly spots, and unaccountably snuffed-out (and cold) candles and lanterns.
  • The Adamant Will, Specialized and Corrupted/only counts as one-third of a power, can only be used against the powers of spirits and the undead, one-third cost. This allows him to easily withstand the mind-influencing powers of spirits and the undead – at least until his strength runs out.

Advanced Witchcraft Abilities:

  • “Familiar” (the Witchcraft-based access-route to the “Companion” ability) x2 (12 CP) – Two Animals (Large Dogs) using the Mystic Companion Progression, and with a Ghostly Template (as neutral ethereal spirits, rather than negative-energy undead, 6 CP) that will only become available after they die. Tanelis has raised his dogs from small puppies, and would be as reluctant to see them go as they would be to go – and, being a Deathspeaker, has unconsciously arranged to prevent that. When they do die, their spirits will continue to hang around. Until then they’re big, wolfish, mutts. Until then, each of them does at least provide him with +6 Power – raising his reserves quite significantly.
  • Path of Fire/Leaping Fire (6 CP). Tanelis can burn some of his life energy (power) to move faster in an emergency – boosting his own muscles and nerves in the same way that he enhances those of his “zombies”. It’s come in handy when he needs to run away from some upset townsfolk more than once.

Alternatively, you could just take Celerity (for 6 CP) and boost your movement rate. That’s a lot less flexible, and somewhat less powerful – but it doesn’t cost Power and is “on” all the time, which IS a significant advantage and – once again – stays away from the ability to .

  • Voice of the Dead (6 CP). This ability allows the user to communicate with, and use social skills on, the undead. While the negative energy they’re infused with has nothing to do with him, the remaining memories of life in most sapient undead are enough to let a Deathspeaker try to negotiate with them – even if they’re not enough to actually control them. Without this ability our Deathspeaker can communicate with the dead, and disembodied spirits, and spirits in the afterlife – but not with the unded. With this, not only can he communicate with the undead, but they start off with a neutral attitude towards him.

Other Abilities:

  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills for Double Effect (6 CP). This provides +2 SP/Level. I’ll presume that it was taken with disadvantage points pretty much at birth, for +8 SP at level one.
  • Adept/Four skills of choice can be purchased for half cost (6 CP). For this game, that’s going to be Athletics, Perception, Persuasion, and Survival.
  • +4 Skill Points (4 CP).

Total: 72 CP.

Skills Points = 4 (Purchased) +4 (Int Mod x 4) +8 (Fast Learner) = 16

  • Athletics +4 (2 SP*) +2 (Str) +2 (Race) = +8
  • Perception +4 (2 SP*) +2 (Wis) +2 (Race) = +8
  • Persuasion +4 (2 SP*) +3 (Cha) = +7
  • Survival +4 (2 SP*) + +2 (Wis) +2 (Race) = +8

That leaves eight skill points to spend – enough for another pair of maxed-out skills. I’m going to leave those available pending further information on the setting and character.

Most of the things the character will want to buy later on relate to his witchcraft of course: some items to round out his spiritual powers include:

  • Path of Coven Master/Summoning , Specialized and Corrupted/only to call up the spirits of the dead and only works when said spirit is either hanging around an area or the user possesses an appropriate link to it – usually a portion of their body or relic of their life, although (if a spirit is especially desperate) their true name will sometimes do (2 CP). This will allow him to hold seances, summon forth vengeful spirits, seek the aid of saints, and otherwise consult the dead.
  • Path of Spirits/Seize the Wandering Soul (6 CP): This dangerous power allows the user to capture wandering souls for a time – possibly killing their bodies in the process. It is wise to remember that many gods take SERIOUS exception to anyone seizing the souls of their followers.
  • Path of Spirits/Spirit Binding (6 CP): This powerful – and risky – ability allows the user to bind souls captured via Seize the Wandering Soul into areas, objects, and non-sapient bodies. And yes, that does mean that you can effectively reincarnate people.
  • Path of Spirits/ Hag-Riding (6 CP): This ability allows the user to drain power from bound souls and use it for his or her own purposes.
  • Path of Spirits/Ridden by the Loa with Equal Control, Corrupted/only Spirits of the Dead (8 CP): This ability allows the user to invite the spirits of the dead to share control of his or her body – and to imbue him with some of the abilities the visiting spirit held in life. Thus channeling the spirit of a noble warrior could considerably boost the user’s combat abilities.
  • Privilege/Blessing of the Ancestors (3 CP): This is a ritual invocation of the ancestors, asking them to watch over something. This lasts for at least a year, and often permanently – but is too subtle for game mechanics. Thus a fallen candle may quietly snuff itself out rather then starting a fire in a blessed house. Fields yield more, suffering less from pests and weather. Children are healthier, have fewer and milder accidents – and are far more likely to reach adulthood. Farm animals have more offspring, spinning thread snags less often, and artists are more inspired. The scale of the ritual required depends on the scale of the blessing sought; kids only take a minute, a city might take a three-day festival honoring the relevant Ancestors.
  • The Path of Air/Breath of Life (6 CP): Allows the user to temporarily breathe life into inanimate objects.
  • The prospective Player has suggested Path of Spirits/Siphon (6 CP) – an ability which allows him to bargain with spirits for on-demand access to some of their powers. That’s doable of course, but it isn’t one of the prime choices in my view simply because the spirits of the dead don’t usually have that many as-needed powers to draw upon. Still, if the character later expands his reach to start drawing on other kinds of sprits, this will become a great deal more effective.
  • Finally, of course, the character will want to build up his Power reserves a bit. The easiest way to do that is to take Mana using the Power option – adding 3d6 to the user’s Power reserve for (6 CP).

As always, characters built using Witchcraft have some very interesting options and can be quite formidable at lower levels – but, while Witchcraft will continue to be a useful talent at higher levels, it simply doesn’t scale well and offers relatively little offensive punch at any level. On the other hand, those powers will be extremely convenient in mystery scenarios and offer some useful party support – as well as an endless series of plot hooks. We’re looking at a d20 universe full of monsters and disasters and spells here. There will be enough spirits floating around with unfinished business to keep a thousand characters endlessly busy. That’s well worth putting up with a party that has some extra minions along.

Are there alternative builds? Of course there are. It’s just that most of them will be rather more expensive and will have to push off many of the abilities until later – although their upper limits will be considerably higher. Witchcraft is intentionally designed to give low-level characters cheap access to an array of interesting, heroic-level powers and to top out there. You won’t ever see a Witch blasting cities with gates to the elemental planes or summoning up mighty demonic armies – but you won’t see them with nothing much to do today but throw Magic Missile a couple of times either.

For example, lets say we wanted to build this character with Thaumaturgy.

According to his backstory…

Tanelis discovered his talents as a Death-Speaker as a child when he accidentally reanimated a recently deceased pet. That didn’t work out well of course – it was still dead, and decaying, and spiritless, and it didn’t last for long – but it left Tanelis with a fascination for playing with the forces of life and death that was regarded as, at the least, unhealthy.

The elders tried to steer him into more appropriate fields, but Tanelis kept practicing Death-speaking in secret. Youthful rebelliousness, and the fact that it was simply how his talents ran, made sure of that For him it was like just like playing in the mud and getting a bit dirty, plain and simple. His ability was entirely neutral, there was nothing sinister about it!

He somehow made it to young adulthood with his secret intact – despite his near-total inability to use other forms of magic. Unfortunately, an orc attack put an end to that. With his friends and family losing, Tanelis fell back on his well-practiced ability to re-animate the dead to call up reinforcements.

The sudden influx of quasi-zombies to the field turned the tide – but Tanelis flattened himself with the strain – and the village elders did not take kindly to being defied and weren’t too clear on the difference between necromancy and Deathspeaking in any case. He was presented with a choice; forswearing Deathspeaking or exile.

Tanelis knew that he couldn’t honestly forswear Deathspeaking. It was a part of who he was – and if he saw his friends in danger again, he’d surely use it again no matter what he swore.

Since then, he’s been wandering around as an adventurer, trying hard not to be too bitter about his fate and the village elders irrationality. Still, it’s all in the past; the future is what matters.

OK: So he was capable of animating corpses as a child. As a young adult, he was capable of animating a swarm of them.

That’s a fifth or sixth level effect. Doing it at level one with Thaumaturgy calls for… A DC 25 check, 12 Power and 6 Spell Levels. To get that to work we’ll need to buy…

  • Mana as 4d6 (14) Power, Specialized/only for use with Necromantic Thaumaturgy (4 CP).
  • Mana as 3d4 (8) Generic Spell Levels, Specialized/only for use with Necromantic Thaumaturgy (5 CP).
  • Thaumaturgy/Necromancy (6 CP).
  • Luck with +2 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only for casting Thaumaturgy (3 CP).

Now that’s 18 CP – the same as we’d save by dumping the Basic Witchcraft and Voice of the Dead abilities. The hounds can stay the same, simply taking the Companion ability directly – but this version will also call for a bunch of skill points. At least five, and probably ten or more.

We can squeeze that into a level zero child-character, although they won’t be capable of much of anything else. Scraping up the skill points will, however, require a high intelligence and most of the character’s remaining points; other abilities will simply have to wait for higher levels.

On the upside, at high levels, this version of the character will be capable of massively powerful necromantic effects. Still, that doesn’t really fit in with the requested theme – which is why Witchcraft was selected to begin with.

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.

4 Responses

  1. Wow, I am always quoted as talking about how long it takes to create the character sheet portion of a d20 based character, but I have to admit, I honestly forgot how long it takes to even read over one. Though this is an amazing idea, at first I was like “necromancer that doesn’t dabble in the dark arts?! IMPOSSIBLE!” but then I started thinking about the other aspects of the character, and find it to be quite interesting.

    • Well, I’m glad you found it interesting! Perhaps sadly, the player eventually decided to go with a more conventional necromancer – but the build was certainly an interesting experiment.

      Interestingly, Witchcraft – particular with Specialized and Corrupted effects – has been seeing a lot of use in putting together extensively-customized builds. It does a nice self-limiting job of putting together a suite of thematic powers for lower-level characters.

      Oh, sorry about the delay; most of the last month has been a massive time crunch.

  2. This is an interesting build… I’m playing a paladin of the goddess of death in my friend’s homebrew-world 3.5 game, and the influence of this deity’s church has made necromancy entirely illegal… and my character has turned heretic by daring to ask “is *all* necromancy evil?” Even though we’re not using Eclipse, I’ve been a big fan of it ever since I found it on DriveThruRPG last year, and I’d love to run a game using it… alas, the same is true for Pathfinder and Trailblazer and Grim Tales and Iron Kingdoms, not to mention Arcana Evolved and Iron Heroes… and then it becomes a matter of deciding which one I want to run most, because there isn’t enough time for them all. :-(

    Are we any closer to a release date for Eclipse III yet? I’m only asking here because it was the most recent result returned by Google on the subject.

    • Well, I’m glad you found the build interesting! I suspect that half the awkwardness of “necromancy” lies in the fact that – in reality – “Necromancy” tends to be used as a word for everything from professional graverobbers (A.K.A. Archeologist, Resurrectionist, Ghoul) on through common spiritualists and those who attempt to gather information from the dead, and on up to hollywood movie villains throwing around mighty spells – whether for good or evil. Thus a game may try to define it, but the practical definition tends to be in each players head – and un1que to them. Thus conflict – and often player-gm-rules conflict, not the fun kind.

      I’m also pleased that you found Eclipse interesting; I did put a fair amount of work into it, and – while there is never enough time to run every game that looks attractive – I am still pleased that Eclipse supports Pathfinder and most of the other “3.5 Plus” d20 systems – although not so much Trailblazer, since the elimination of classes in favor of allowing everyone to buy what they want pretty well eliminates “class balance” issues automatically.

      Eclipse III is gradually getting back underway; the initial delay was some computer problems – but by the time I got them fixed I’d been forced to move Distant Horizons Games from “job” to “hobby” – and that’s left writing new books (which do take up a lot of time) competing with a lot of other things for a much more limited slice of time.

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