Eclipse, Heroic Deaths, and the Old School

Heroic death of Polish Cavalry unit in Wisła river

Heroism doesn’t always equal Death – but it helps.

A lot of old-school gamers say that they miss the feeling of heroism; that games these days just aren’t the same.

They’re right really – and the difference is pretty simple.

Old school characters die a lot. They’re quick to make, they start off weak, they catch up with older characters quickly, and they generally don’t last all that long – unless they’re cautious, clever, and lucky. The games continuity revolves around the Party, rather than individual characters. Older characters swiftly bring newcomers up to their level – and so the Party continues to forge ahead, and grow in strength and ability, while individual members come and go.

New school games tend to focus more on individual characters – and so characters have to last longer. They become more complex to make since lasting longer calls for more details. There are more rules, since longer-lasting characters mean more chances to repeat stunts without the game master being able to say that “that character was different”. They start off more powerful, so as to be sure that they don’t die so easily. They don’t catch up with older characters as easily, since they’re been around much longer and that now makes the players of older characters feel cheated. The game master tends to be hesitant to kill them off – and may even rescue characters who were TRYING for martyrdom (and yes, I’ve had that happen).

In the old school taking a heroic stand – remaining to hold the bridge, opposing the far more powerful dark lord, or whatever – was indeed a heroic stand. You wouldn’t be stepping though shadows or using your hyper-athletics to escape. It was very likely that you would not survive.

That was what made it heroic.

Some games recognized that. Torg had the “Martyr” card; if you were holding that in your hand when things went pear-shaped you could play it and automatically bring the situation to a favorable outcome – at the cost of your character dying.

Of course, old-school games with looser systems could do that. If your character wanted to make a heroic sacrifice, no one said “Hey, where’s the rule for that? Can all characters do that? Why don’t peasants with nothing to lose take out attacking monsters then?” It was assumed, as in AD&D, that player characters possessed remarkable potentials, and were one-in-thousands – and that was reason enough.

Now, Eclipse is designed to let you do what you want. If you want your character to have the potential for a heroic death, that’s an ability they can buy.

It’s one of the abilities in Eclipse that most players overlook or seriously underestimate, despite it being right up near the front of the book in plain sight.

It’s why – despite the myriad temptations of the powers of evil, despite the endless legions of demons, and despite the cruelties of men – that the forces of good remain dominant in Eclipse worlds.

It’s because of the Action Hero / Stunts ability. Each Stunt momentarily gives you an extra six character points.

Most characters save their Action Points for the occasional special stunt, and – most of all – for saving their necks in an emergency. That’s pretty much what the bad guys ALWAYS use them for – empowering some mighty ritual designed to take over the world, pulling an escape out of nowhere, falling into that chasm only to mysteriously turn up again later, and so on.

You can do more than that though by simply using more than one. Use five? That’s an extra thirty character points.

Stack on enough limitations to Corrupt and Specialize that – or even to double up on those modifiers by adding modifiers such as “dying to cast it”, or “does massive damage to the user” – and an extra thirty character points will let you do virtually ANYTHING. Once. At a terrible price.

Only true heroes will pay those prices and sacrifice themselves for others. That is why they continue to hold against the powers of darkness. In a moment of true – and usually final – heroism, those action heroes who die for others have virtually no limits.

Go ahead. Use those points to access things like “Immunity to Time Requirements”, the “Berserker” sequence (invested entirely in boosting the ability you want to use), or “Immunity to Antimagic, Dispelling, and Counterspells”. Use Doubled Damage (and apply all those modifiers for increased effect) and Enhanced Stike options to strike a single dragon-slaying blow. Take access to the “Compact” Metamagic and Immunity to the normal limitation that you can only get three levels off a spell by using it – and then apply “dies irrevocably to cast it” to boost your magic to horrific levels. Use Reflex Action so that no one can interrupt you.

It really doesn’t matter. If you do this, you’ve basically got 180 CP invested in dying heroically. Think of a ten-level prestige class with the minimum possible basic benefits and only one special ability at the end; “You can die permanently to resolve any problem you may be facing”.

Not too many players would want to take that – so Action Hero says that you don’t have to. If you want a heroic death … you can have one. If you want it to mean something… you can have that capability for a mere six character points. With any luck, however, you’ll be able to use those action points for lesser acts of heroism and retire at a ripe old age anyway.

Even in the old school, serious heroic deaths were never routine.

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