This question has come in a variety of forms – “What does Eclipse do about the Caster-Martial disparity?”, “where are the high-tier options for fighters?”, “How do I make a combat character who can keep up with the mages?” and “How do I make a skill monkey character who can actually make a difference at higher levels?” – but it’s always the same underlying feeling.
Personally, I blame going to individual Turns instead of counting Segments and the addition of the “Concentration” skill. In first edition mages might have mighty spells – but actually getting that Fireball cast took three segments of chanting and waving your arms, during which time half the other side would probably get to go. Since any interruption would ruin the spell, getting a powerful spell cast called for a cooperative effort; the mage stood and chanted while the rest of the party focused on keeping the enemy away from the artillery until it was ready to fire – which was the active and exciting part and made the casting of major combat spells a group effort.
Still, that’s not the edition we’re talking about right now.
There are two basic mechanical approaches to dealing with later edition Martial-Caster disparity (and many complicated ones – but revising the initiative system, many spells, the concentration skill, and so on calls for a major rewrite of the game).
One is to note that the major spellcaster types generally have a vast range of spells to use. They might not have the right ones available at the moment, but they can usually find a way to get them if they have to. Since parties tend to stop and rest once the spells run out, the fact that the non-casters could keep going longer becomes irrelevant. The casters can afford to exploit the fact that they often have an “I Win!” spell or combination of spells available for any given situation – and can often contrive to outperform a martial character on the battlefield and a skill monkey in accomplishing other tasks as well thanks to combat enhancements and utility spells. To match that a martial character must be given enormous flexibility, as well as a fair increase in power.
There have been attempts here. For example, the Tome of Battle gave combat-oriented characters more power and more options – but the vast majority of those tricks were still battlefield only.
The other approach is try to give the martial types overwhelming superiority on the battlefield and the skill monkeys overwhelming superiority in the use of their skills. In many ways this is fair enough – why shouldn’t fighters dominate combat like mages dominate magical research and clerics dominate healing? – but the downside here is that most games rely pretty heavily on small-scale combat for excitement and drama and spend a lot of time on it. Setting up one character to dominate it isn’t going to work out well in the long run.
Still, how powerful you need to be to dominate combat is going to vary from game to game. So I shall discard all sense of restraint and build some high-end options for martial characters.
As always, the first thing to look at when you start training a martial character is with his or her Stance. Differing stances are better for differing sets of maneuvers and styles of combat.
So how do you buy Stances in Eclipse?
That’s actually pretty straightforward: You take a list of at least four combat boosts, and make them Specialized and Corrupted/you can only use stances totaling one-quarter of your invested points or less at any one time. This can, however, quite reasonably stack with the internal Specialization and Corruption of individual abilities – but the game master must ensure that all the stances are things that the user would actually like to be able to use at the same time. Applying “can only use a few at a time” to a list that includes social, crafting, combat, and research boosting effects really isn’t much of a limitation.
I’ve organized the sample stances below in to thematic groups because they’re more interesting that way – but there’s no reason why you cannot mix and match. If there’s one that you REALLY like… just triple the cost and take it as a permanently active (unless you turn it off) ability.
The Master of the Hidden Mountain trains occasional worthy warriors who seek him out in his elemental stances – sending them on their way a step closer to being mighty heroes.
Hidden Mountain Style (Minor Stances)
- Flowing Water: Opportunist/Each time the user makes an attack, he or she may also take a 5′ step (2 CP).
- Lashing Branch: Opportunist/5′ steps and withdrawals provoke AOO before they’re taken (2 CP).
- Leaping Fire: Presence/those who strike the user with melee weapons from within a ten foot radius are struck by a fire-based version of Shocking Grasp cast at the user’s level (2 CP).
- Stony Pillar: DR 3/-, Specialized for double effect (6/-)/only against physical attacks (2 CP).
- Wind Blowing: Shaping/Specialized and Corrupted for Increase Effect (Only to generate force-disk “stepping stones” under the user’s feet, allowing him or her to run around up to five feet above a surface, ignore difficult terrain and minor obstacles, and find firm footing “on” ropes, ledges, and similar. Unfortunately, maintaining the effect is distracting enough to inflict a -2 penalty on the user’s attacks (2 CP).
The Hidden Mountain style costs only 10 CP – just under the cost of two Feats – and covers a fair chunk of the basics for a master fighter; ways to control the flow of the fight, a way to retaliate against attackers without spending actions, a way to reduce incoming damage, and a way to handle difficult terrain. Most users will want to invest at least another 6 CP though – adding three more minor stances of their own design and acquiring the ability to use two of them at the same time.
Call of the Wild Style (Major Stances):
To don the mask is to become the thing, whether it be demon, spirit, or god. To mimic the beasts is to draw on the powers of the beasts. Such are the animal styles – and the abilities they grant are many and varied. With practice, it is even possible to draw on the powers of more than one beast at a time.
Many shamans, witch doctors, druids, and mystics can show a warrior how to call upon the wild strengths of one beast or another, although few can teach them all.
- Bear Stands Tall: Presence/The user and his allies gain the equivalent of an Enlarge effect, but only reach the minimum size required (8 feet tall), so they still occupy only a single space. The effects are otherwise standard. Presence/The user and his allies within 10′ gain the Claws of the Bear (4 CP).
- Crane Takes Flight: Celerity/Additional Movement Mode/Flight (4 CP). (This is commonly limited to use in Light and Medium armor in exchange for greater speed).
- Dragon Strikes Horde: Presence/all enemies within 10′ attacked by Shocking Grasp (energy form of choice when purchased) once per round, although the user must roll these attacks at his or her highest melee attack bonus. Plus a second instance of the same thing (4 CP).
- Gazelle Leaps Chasm: Celerity/+20 ground movement.
- Kitsune Tricks Huntsman: Shaping/allows use of various tokens as Charms and Talismans, Shaping/Specialized in Illusions and Transformations (allows use of freeform Transformation and/or Illusion Cantrips once per round) (4 CP).
- Mongoose Catches Wind: Reflex Trainings/Combat Reflexes, Augmented Bonus/Adds (Wis Mod) to (Dex Mod) to determine the number of attacks of opportunity available.
- Monkey Leaps Sky: Acrobatics with Light Foot (4 CP).
- Mouse Flicks Ear: Awareness with Flankless. The user cannot be caught flat-footed or flanked (4 CP).
- Panther Silent Prowls: Shapeshift with Attribute Modifiers, Hybrid, Clear Speech, and +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted/only to take on Panther physical attribute modifiers. (4 CP).
- Perfidious Rat Strikes: Presence/all enemies within 10′ are attacked by Persistent Blades (and so are automatically flanked), +2d6 Sneak Attack (4 CP).
- Piercing Mantis Claw: Augmented Attack: +4d6 (15) damage, Specialized/only to overcome Hardness and Damage Reduction (4 CP).
- Striking Serpent Coils: Trick/Disruption Strike/Victims are unable to cast spells or manifest psionic powers for 3d6 hours, reduced to 3d6 minutes by healing magic of level 3+. Once used it will require 2d4 rounds before this strike can be used again. Block/Melee/user may spend an Attack of Opportunity and make a DC 20 Reflex Save to reduce the damage from an incoming melee attack by 60 points once per turn (4 CP).
Fully mastering the animal styles would cost a total of 48 CP – the price of eight feats, although that will allow the use of the powers of three animals at one time. Of course, that means that you could be using a Panther’s physical attribute modifiers (Str +6, Dex +8, Con +4), Flight, and an automatic energy attack rolled versus touch AC of 2d6 to 10d6 (depending on the user’s level) on any opponent who comes within 10′ – or various other combos, at all times.
For a mere 16 CP you can pick four stances, and use any one of them you like at any time, at level one.
Way of the Strategos (Minor Stances with a Modifier):
All Strategos stances are Presence effects with the following modifiers:
Specialized for Double Effect; those affected must have Int 3+, be able to understand whatever the user’s mode of communication, and be willing to obey the user’s orders. The user must be conscious, reasonably well aware of the situation, and able to communicate clearly. Note that beneficial effects will also affect the user.
Metamagical Theorem/Battle Magic, Specialized and Corrupted for increased effect (it takes effect immediately, provided that the user has a chain of command appropriate to the group affected in place, has spent some time training them (untrained individuals half the effect), and is recognized as being in command. Personal command will, however, suffice for up to (Charisma x 2) individuals within a 60 foot radius)/only to boost the area affected by the user’s Presence Effects (6 CP).
That’s actually a little bit of a stretch – a Presence aura isn’t really a spell even if it acts quite a lot like one – but variants are explicitly allowed and buying an immunity to do the same thing calls for some awfully arbitrary decisions about pricing it. Just as importantly, we ARE pulling out all the stops here.
- Avatar of War: Ward of Heaven/+1 Luck Bonus to Armor Class and Saves per three levels of the Strategos (Minimum +1, Maximum +6). As doubled, that’s +2 to +12.
- Battle Blessing: Aura of Favor/+1 Luck Bonus to Attack Rolls and Damage Rolls per three levels of the Strategos (Minimum +1, Maximum +6). As doubled, that’s +2 to +12.
- Call of Valor: Ray of Hope/+2 Morale Bonus to Ability Checks, Attacks, Saves, and Skill Checks, doubled to +4 via the Specialization (2 CP).
- Coordinated Strike: Snakes Swiftness (Grants +1 immediate attack at full BAB. The specialization doubles this as usual) (2 CP).
- Forced March: Expeditious Retreat, after doubling for Specialization, +60′ ground movement (2 CP).
- Quincunx: Resist Energy. After doubling for Specialization provides Resistance 20/40/60 to one type of energy at Strategos level 1+/7+/11+.
- Shield Wall: Shield/+4 Shield Bonus to AC, doubled to +8 via Specialization (2 CP).
- Stand Strong: Biofeedback or Flesh Ward. Grants DR 2/-, doubled to DR 4/- by Specialization (2 CP).
- Turtle Formation: Warding Rune: +1 +L/3 (4 Max), rounded down, resistance bonus to Saves. As usual, doubled by Specialization (2 CP).
- Unrelenting Advance: Combines Surefoot and Surefooted Stride. Those affected gain a +10 competence bonus on Balance, Climb, Jump, and Tumble checks, and may treat Difficult Terrain as Clear Terrain (2 CP).
- Volley Fire: In this case the doubled effect applies two unmodified first level effects – Hawkeye and Guided Shot. This combination provides +5 to Spot, immunity to penalties for distance, less than total cover, and less than total concealment with ranged attacks, and a 50% increase in the maximum range (2 CP).
- Will to Victory: Amplification/Caster/Manifester level versus Spell/Power Resistance. Provides a bonus to caster level checks to overcome spell resistance of +1 + (L/2) to a maximum of +5. As doubled, this is +(User Level + 2) to a maximum of +10 (2 CP).
A full Master Strategos in command can maintain three effects at a time, affecting everyone who’s obeying a proper chain of command at a cost of 24 CP for the Stances and 6 CP for the Battlefield modifier. If a characters training is totally focused on the discipline, and covers little or nothing else… a character could scrape up the 30 CP (equivalent to five feats) for that at Level Zero.
And now you know how to build Ender Wiggins (I prefer Ender’s Game to the later novels). Just in case granting your troops bonuses like this is not enough, you can buy more stances (to increase the number you can support at one time), Mystic Artist (to provide additional bonuses), and Executive with Tactician to grant even more bonuses – although that will start to get expensive.