Eclipse – Cinematic Combat at the Narrative Convenience Store

The advantage of taking a shortcut through a c...

Couldn’t we just fight our way through instead?

This particular question was about building a character who uses their personal traits to gain advantages when they’re describing how they carry out an action and can spend several rounds building up to some amazing feat by using some of their personal traits each round to set it up.

That’s a bit awkward actually. After all, if you really carry all the way through on that you’re pretty much replacing “roll and add your characters bonus” with another game engine entirely. There’s nothing wrong with that – and you could do it in Eclipse, either with an appropriate set of Immunities or by buying a lot of Luck and limiting it according to a narrow set of traits and by the cleverness of your narrative – but if you really want to use a different game system, it’s usually easiest to go ahead and do it.

The obvious way to do something like in Eclipse while keeping the basic d20 system is to buy Action Hero/Stunts (6 CP), Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect/the user gets a limited set of personal traits which he or she may use to narrate the events that build up to his or her stunt, it takes 1d4 rounds to build up to a stunt, the stunt must simply augment an action the user is already capable of taking; it cannot allow the user to do something that does not fit their abilities.

If you’re going up in levels with the usual 13.5 encounters, you’ll be able to afford to use one of your stunts in every notable fight starting at level three (and in most of them before that). But what if you’re in a campaign that doesn’t go up in level much? Or perhaps not at all? Your Action Points will run out and you won’t be able to do cool stuff any more!

Well, you could just buy it again for a total of (12 CP) and double up your Action Point supply – but that won’t help with the static game. It also won’t help if you want minor stunts and bonuses to be a normal part of your play; If you want your “light feet” to give you a small advantage in a sword fight, at a formal dance, when crossing thin ice, and when trying to dodge a fireball, Action Hero/Stunts is not what you want; you want this stuff to come up all the time.

OK, I can build that. Buy Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/only to invoke various forms of the Narrative Manipulation spell (below), the traits which can be granted must be selected when this ability is purchased and are limited to four from each category (6 CP) and Improved Reflex Training/may reflexively invoke an appropriate Narrative Manipulation effects to assist other actions (12 CP).

OK, at 18 CP that’s moderately expensive – but you are buying small bonuses to a whole lot of rolls as well as the chance to pull off really cool moves with major bonuses every so often. It’s probably worth it, or at least it is if you’re good at describing things.

Narrative Manipulation (Various): Transmutation, Level: Bard 1, Components: V, S, Casting Time: Free Action (two per round maximum), Range: Touch, Target: One Willing Creature, Duration: One Minute.

Narrative Manipulation spells come in many variants, but all work in the same way; the target gains the ability to make use of an environmental feature, opponent weakness, or personal trait to gain an advantage before rolling for an action – although success depends on the attempt being sufficiently plausible, dramatic, and relevant. Each specific variant on this spell applies to a particular class of environmental features, opponent weakness, or personal trait, and may be used to seek an advantage a maximum of once every three rounds. No one individual may benefit from more than three Narrative Manipulation effects of each category at any one time or from more than three traits in any one round.

Mechanically, if the game master approves of the description (and repetitive descriptions are far less likely to be approved) the user gains either a +2 bonus on the action of a type dependent on the type of Narrative Manipulation spell used or one temporary character point. Regardless of how many spells or effects may be supplying them, a character may not accumulate more than twelve temporary character points at any one time at a maximum of three per round, and may expend them at any time to fuel a stunt. Unspent points vanish one minute after they’re acquired. Unfortunately, Narrative Manipulation only functions during dramatic sequences; you can’t meaningfully gain an advantage when you’re not being seriously challenged.

The stunt used may represent a dramatic recovery or it may augment an action that the user is already capable of; a Warrior might have gotten himself in position to strike at a vulnerable point and so inflict Double Damage versus his current target type, or the Master of Fire might scrape up the mystical energy for another Fireball – but the non-magical Warrior won’t be using Innate Spell to throw a Fireball, or the Master of Fire abruptly learn to smash mountains with his staff. Thus, the game master must approve of the stunt desired – although the player may propose other stunts in the place of rejected ones.

The major variants on Narrative Manipulation include:

  • Maneuvers – effects that allow the user to take advantage of the features of the scene to gain Circumstance bonuses. The major effects in this category include:
    • Characters: The user may exploit another characters presence or actions to gain an advantage. They might use an opening they create, hide behind them, or get a warning or advice from them.
    • Equipment: The user may employ some odd bit of personal gear to gain an advantage, perhaps using a smoke pellet, pulling out a secondary weapon for a surprise strike, or noting their freshly-sharpened blade.
    • Mobility: The user may describe how he or she is moving around the scene to gain an advantage – ducking around trees, circling an opponent, or performing acrobatic tricks. This does not actually change the user’s position; if he or she describes running up the dragon’s spine to strike at it’s neck, he or she will still wind up in a legally-reachable position at the end of his or her movement.
    • Scenery: The user may use furnishings, items, rocks, and other scene elements to gain an advantage – pulling down a tapestry on someone’s head, kicking a fallen urn under their feet, or swinging on a chandelier to gain a bonus on a Tumble check to cross an area safely.
    • Terrain: The user may take advantage of mud, dust, rocks, cliffs, vegetation, or other terrain features to gain an advantage, perhaps kicking sand into an opponents eyes, trying to trap them against a cliff, or getting their legs tangled in vines for a few instants.
  • Traits: The user gains a specific, limited, personal trait that they may sometimes use to obtain an advantage and a Luck Bonus. Unlike the other categories this is somewhat open-ended; the user might be “incredibly agile”, or “enduring”, be “easily misidentified”, have “sharp vision”, be a “clever planner”, be “vengeful”, or have any of many, many, other traits. The game master must approve of any given trait, and should make sure that they are relatively narrow.
  • Exploits take advantage of an opponents weaknesses – although you have to know about them to take advantage of them – to gain morale bonuses. The major effects in this category include:
    • Knowledge: The user may exploit an opponents ignorance of the situation or some fact, such as not knowing about the patch of vampire grass, or that their combat style is weak against sharp thrusts, or some similar item.
    • Physical: The user may exploit an opponents bad leg, loose armor straps, or other physical handicap to gain an advantage.
    • Psychological: The user may “push an opponents buttons”, use their fear of spiders, or exploit some other mental weakness to gain an advantage.
    • Sensory: The user may exploit an opponents bad eyes, limited view through the slit on a helm, use the noise of battle to drown out his approach, reflect light into the opponents eyes, or use some similar tactic to gain an advantage.
    • Social: The user may invoke authority, claim to have slept with an opponents husband or wife, or target insults against a known weakness. Angry and upset opponents make mistakes.

But wait! How is my character supposed to know about personal weaknesses? Well, scouting and research is probably the best way – but various skill checks may be able to turn up something on the spot. Sense Motive, Spot, Knowledge (whatever), and guesswork can all work. Is your opponent a snobbish noble? Taunts and insults may work wonders.

And now you too can think fast (trait), grab a handy chandelier and swing around (mobility or scenery) to attack your opponent’s blind side (sensory weakness) and gain a +6 to your attacks!