Eclipse and Purchasing Vehicles

Prague 2002: A fur coated blacksmith presents ...

You want me to make you a WHAT?!?!

As far as most characters are concerned, vehicles are more or less something that happens. You escape the villains stronghold aboard his personal jet, you use the mole-machine to reach the hidden complex deep beneath the Himalayas, you work aboard the mighty space-battleship, you travel with smugglers, you charter a boat to reach the mysterious island… The details don’t matter much; the game master has set it up.

But what if you want your character to own a vehicle of his or her own? How expensive should that be? After all, worthwhile vehicles can be hugely expensive in terms of money – but in Eclipse things are bought with character points, and “how expensive” in terms of character points usually comes down to some variation on “How useful is this?”. So just how useful is having a personal vehicle?

On the upside..

  • A vehicle lets the characters haul along more stuff – including, possibly, fixed-mount weapons or a laboratory or something if it’s a large vehicle. Even a smaller vehicle can offer places to hide and/or smuggle stuff. Of course, so does a mule, or a bag of holding, or – for smaller articles – a bit of sleight of hand.
  • A vehicle provides a bit of hard cover against attacks from outside of it – whether that’s provided by the bulwark of a ship, the sides of a wagon, or the door of a car. Of course, so does a tower shield. In fact, a Tower Shield models the kind of protection offered by a vehicle fairly well in a lot of cases.
  • A large vehicle lets the characters avoid camping out; they can sleep inside and travel in comfort. A really large one can be a semi-secure base of operations. A house will cover some of that, but is hard to travel with. Inns work too, but sometimes they’re hard to find. Caravans are a classic low-end solution though, and don’t necessarily cost much more than a wagon does.
  • A vehicle allows all-out ranged combat, since most of the characters are not having to bother with moving around or seeking cover. Of course, the same applies to the enemy.
  • A vehicle – at least in RPG’s – almost invariably looks cool and attracts admiring attention. Some of them can even intimidate your enemies.

In theory…

  • Vehicles let the characters travel faster. In practice, most trips are accomplished at the speed of plot and things will be at whatever stage the game master thinks they should be when you get there.
  • Vehicles let the characters avoid travel fatigue. in practice, few d20 games worry about travel fatigue very much.
  • Vehicles let the characters avoid many encounters and stops. In practice, the game master will insert as many of those as he or she likes anyway; traveling in a vehicle simply changes how they’re described a bit.
  • Vehicles let the characters outrun problems. In practice, the game master simply makes that arbitrarily difficult anyway. If he or she wants a chase scene, or wants to force the party to fight, or is simply rolling some dice to see if you can get away, whether or not you have a vehicle won’t really matter much.
  • Vehicles let the characters reach places that they couldn’t get to otherwise and go wherever they want to. In practice, there will always be a way to reach wherever the game master wants you to go while going straight to places where he or she doesn’t want you to go will always be fraught with difficulty.
  • Vehicles let the characters to do battle with opponents that would normally be far beyond their power to affect. In practice, however, if an opponent is supposed to be defeatable, the characters will be presented with options for doing it (if they can figure them out). If it’s not defeatable – and thus is basically an obstacle to be evaded or dealt with in some other way – a vehicle won’t help unless the game master intended said vehicle to be a possible solution anyway.
  • Vehicles are worth a lot of money. In practice, actually selling a vehicle in the game is as difficult as the game master decides it ought to be and yields however much money he or she thinks will be good for the game.

“Since the XP-38 came out, they’re just not in demand.”

-Luke Skywalker.

On the downside…

  • Vehicles are dangerous to fall out of -whether that means hitting the ground at high speed, being lost at sea, falling a great distance, drifting away in space, or some even more exotic doom.
  • Vehicles can be damaged, often fairly easily, with potentially disastrous consequences – and are then awkward or expensive to fix or replace.
  • Vehicles are targets for thieves and opponents, who more easily steal them and anything aboard them.
  • Vehicles can crash, or otherwise lose control, endangering everyone aboard and possibly leaving them stranded in awkward locations.
  • Vehicles can make it very difficult to escape a scenario set aboard one.
  • Vehicles usually require fuel or maintenance, making them a nuisance to maintain.
  • Vehicles usually require an investment in some sort of piloting ability – at least if you want to avoid crashing.

For the game master…

  • Vehicles allow you to have dramatic chase scenes while keeping the party together (and most of them shooting), rather than letting the slower ones fall behind and focusing on running.
  • Vehicles can be a money sink; they’re something that can be enchanted or upgraded independently of the character.
  • Vehicles can be plot devices. If reaching location X requires vehicle Y and the characters have to get to location X, you have a fairly standard quest-step – and one that’s probably easier to swallow then needing a particular mystic key or something. Everyone wants the giant dimension fortress containing the secret of a magical energy source for giant mecha? Bad guy in the black armor has a giant space station that destroys worlds? You and your fellow cadets are suddenly in charge of the last surviving major military ship and have a load of civilians to protect? Well, we know where this is going – but we also know that this isn’t something that player characters can just buy, so we really don’t need to worry about it in terms of individual character purchases.

Of course, ways in which vehicles are convenient for the game master don’t have much to do with how useful they are to an individual characer – but it still looks like, in game terms, vehicles are pretty much a wash. Most of the actual real-world advantages of a vehicle don’t really mean anything in terms of the game. Just as importantly, in RPG terms, all vehicles start out as western-movie stagecoaches. That is to say…

  • They are traveling boxes which offer some degree of protection against basic personal weapons.
  • Characters and their stuff (sometimes including bigger weapons) ride in them.
  • When they are attacked – whether it’s by people riding in another box or by a scattering of individuals – the people inside make ranged attacks on the attackers and get into melee with any opponent who manages to get into or onto the box.
  • If someone falls off, they may suffer serious injury and generally get left behind.
  • Occasionally something goes wrong with the box or with whatever-it-is that makes it go, and there will be a daring and dramatic scene of the characters holding things together, avoiding crashing, dragging behind the vehicle, or whatever.

If you want to get fancy…

  • Military vehicles offer more protection, are tougher to damage, and are far more expensive in terms of money (and a bit more expensive in terms of character points) to get and maintain – but are otherwise pretty much the same.

So you have your own personal vehicle. If it’s reasonably common and available in the setting that’s a Minor Privilege (3 CP). If it’s a common military vehicle or a very expensive civilian one like a big yacht that’s going to be a Major Privilege (6 CP). If you want it to be really big take the “Specialized for Double Effect” modifier; it’s going to be extremely expensive to support and repair, horribly conspicuous, and likely to attract all kinds of trouble. If you just want to add some strings, Corrupt or Specialize it by owing favors or services to some sponsoring organization instead.

If you want it to be a major factor in events… that’s a little harder.

  • Does it mount massive weapons that – given a little time – can affect entire battlefields?
  • Does it terrify planetary governments and grant influence in galactic politics?
  • Can you rig it’s systems to produce weird and likely never-to-be-repeated effects?
  • Is it crewed by a horde of loyal robotic minions?
  • You want it to contain terrible elder secrets?
  • You want it run by a powerful, loyal, artificial intelligence?

Well, those are all things that a character could buy directly – so now you want it to be a Relic. Now you want it to be a relic. Those specific functions can be covered by Battle Magic, Action Hero/Influence, Action Hero/Stunts, Followers (Improved), a selection of Specific Knowledges, and Companion – all with their costs reduced or effects increased by the “relic” in question being exceptionally unwieldy. After all, they’re embodied in the ship, not in some convenient hand-portable item.

Ships like that are still fairly cheap really, since they’re also major targets for theft, espionage, and other exciting problems that the characters will have to deal with if they want to keep their neat toy.

If a character wants some sort of vehicle that doesn’t normally exist in the setting… then things get a bit more awkward. If it’s simply that it looks different, that doesn’t really matter – but if they want a highly maneuverable ornithopter in a setting where dirigibles are the only common form of airship or airships aren’t normally available at all… then they’ll just have to build one.

  • Creating such a thing by pure enchantment, or by casting some massively powerful spell, is likely to be overly expensive, both in terms of obtaining the ability to do so and in cash.
  • Actually creating such a technology through Action Hero/Invention (and possibly Action Hero / Crafting) is likely to take several levels (unless you take Leadership/Research team), but can result in you revolutionizing the setting on the cheap. This has it’s points, but the character’s special advantage won’t last all that long (although his or her fame might).
  • Finally, of course, vehicles can be built as Followers or as Companions.

As a follower we have an example sapient vehicle over HERE – but you’d have to be fairly high level to qualify for getting a major haunted warship as a “Follower”. Getting a vehicle as a Companion is, however, much easier. You can do it at level one if you really must.

To convert a Mystic Companion into a vehicle, just apply these Vehicle Modifiers:

  • Pick a base creature at a cost of (32 CP x (Current CR – 2). Any positive cost is Specialized for half cost/the “user” is subject to system failures, damage side effects, and all the other troubles associated with the Naval Combat Charts.
  • Increase it’s effective Strength in steps of +8 until it is strong (and, due to the side effects, large) enough. This is Specialized and Corrupted/users suffer all the negative effects of gaining +1 level of Size per step of strength increase taken but gain only one of the benefits – an increased encumbrance multiplier. Secondarily, the user is too large for helpful spells which target “creatures” to work and cannot use most equipment (16 CP/Level of Increase).

Then add in the rest of the modifiers listed below for an additional 28 CP.

  • Int 0. It’s a construct (0 CP).
  • Con 0. It’s a construct (0 CP).
  • Advanced Finesse/base additional HP on Str, not Con (12 CP).
  • Presence x 5, all Specialized and Corrupted/these functions rely on the structural integrity of the vehicle (another reason why the naval damage charts apply), cannot be upgraded, and mean that the “vehicle” may require weapons-operators to use it’s “natural” abilities (if it has several) and will require a pilot or driver to move; it can neither move nor attack on it’s own. Moreover, it must be repaired, not healed (10 CP).
    • Presence/Enclosed Crew Area: those aboard are protected by the equivalent of a Tower Shield (a minor variant on the Shield spell) against attacks from the outside, although they are not considered to be “holding the shield”.
    • Presence/Stable Platform: those aboard suffer no penalties for “being mounted”.
    • Presence/Safety Holds: those aboard have places to hold on, and may more around under normal conditions without risk.
    • Presence/Basic Comforts: those aboard are shielded from most weather, and can expect to remain reasonably comfortable.
    • Presence/Draught of Air: those aboard can continue to breathe normally as long as the vehicle is in an appropriate environment and conditions outside are not too hostile (yes, this will work underwater for submarines, or at high altitudes for aircraft – as long as the outside pressure remains more or less reasonable; if it’s no longer reasonable, than the environment is now “too hostile”.
  • Damage Reduction 2/- (3 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment (6000 GP Value): Specialized/the user needs a pilot to operate it’s systems (3 CP).
    • Structural Reinforcement: Immortal Vigor I (+12 + 2 x Str Mod HP, 1400 GP).
    • Lighting Systems: Dancing Lights (1000 GP)
    • Voice Tubes (Message, 1000 GP)
    • Compass or Maps (Know Direction, 1000 GP).
    • Faster (Expeditious Retreat, requires piloting/driving/reflex/dexterity checks to exploit this, as it involves pushing the vehicle, driving dangerously, and pulling wild maneuvers in hopes of escaping or cutting down your travel time, x .8 = 1600 GP).

So to create an Ornithopter lets use a Giant Eagle: That’s CR 3 (16 CP) and is already Large, but we want to get it up to +16 Strength and Gargantuan (32 CP). That’s a cost of 76 CP (a +1 ECL template what with 32 CP of it being devoted to reducing it’s ECL, for a net CR of 4). It will have a carrying capacity of 2333/4666/7000 Lbs (Str 34) x 8 (Gargantuan) = 9 1/3 tons for a light load, 18 2/3’rds tons for a medium one, and 28 tons for a heavy one. Since we’re buying this as a Companion, all we need is a Companion with a +2 ECL template – at a total cost of 12 CP. If you owe someone favors, or have to work for a sponsoring organization, or some such… well, that is – once again – a Corruption or Specialization that will reduce the cost.

I may get into the full statistics next time – but, for the moment, that quick summary will do just fine. 

Want a Dirigible? An Owl might be more appropriate. Want a really extreme sports car? Use a Cheetah. Want a submarine? Use a Dolphin. Want a literal Tiger Tank? Use a Tiger and blow it up to the Colossal level. Assign someone to run the “pouncing” system and mount a few weapons on it. Want a fighter? Use a small dragon or something. The Nautilus? Use a Narwhale. A burrowing mole-machine? Use a Badger. You want a Mecha? Use a Blood Ape. Of course, since a +4 ECL template has a maximum of 169 CP – about 60 of which will go to other costs – the maximum CR creature you can use is going to be around CR 6 (for an 18 CP base cost), at least until you hit higher levels. That’s still not at all bad however.

Go ahead. Hold a MONSTER TRUCK RALLY. You know you want to.

Now, admittedly, this is a quick-and-dirty system – but it means that low-level characters can afford to get themselves interesting vehicles, that the statistics of those vehicles can be generated quickly, that there will be a wide variety of vehicles, and that they will operate entirely under the existing rules – making them very easy to bring into play.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition(RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

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One Response

  1. […] Using vehicles in the game and buying them as followers and companions. […]

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