Eclipse and Skills – Paths and Powers

Alzrius wrote an excellent – and very lengthy – article on Eclipse and Skills, which got a similarly lengthy response. Given how awkward that is to read, Alzrius has kindly given permission to republish his original article and the responses broken up into more manageable bits. Given that this segment also turned out to pretty long all by itself… I’m breaking it into two pieces.

Whereas the previous sections of Eclipse dealt with individual abilities, this portion of the book covers chains of abilities that effectively form their own sub-systems. While some have little to do with skills at all, several are (near-)totally built around skills, including multiple skill-based magic systems.

Skill-based magic systems present an interesting intersection of options, being able to be modified via most magic-altering abilities (e.g. metamagic theorems) as well as by most skill-altering abilities. This can allow for some incredibly potent options which creative players, including the GM, can employ, particularly since skill-based magic tends to be highly versatile in the effects that it can produce (though this tends to be in exchange for lower levels of direct power/complexity compared to slot-based magic progressions).

Channeling: Relatively few channeling options have skill-based abilities. The following are a few that do:

  • With Channeling it’s worth noting that Glorious Touch can empower tools as well as weapons or armor – and while tools don’t list many special functions, there’s no reason why you can’t talk to the game master about that. A tool that reduces the required time between checks, or which automatically adds “masterwork” to the results, or some such seems pretty reasonable.

Dark Awakening – the first ability of the Hatred’s Weal path – allows for undead to be animated via channeling (and, in a rather intriguing note, for the user to animate themselves after their death). Undead created in this way can be influenced with social skill checks, according to the text. This is slightly awkward, because it would only be noteworthy for unintelligent undead; creatures with an Intelligence score can typically be influenced anyway. Moreover, this influence is limited to those undead that you’ve personally created (with this ability, no less). If all you really want is a way to use social skills on mindless undead, consider buying an Immunity (q.v.) to the inability to do so instead.

Negotiations with the Undead are less debated these days, but I have seen a lot of campaigns where the basic assumptions was that “you cannot negotiate with the undead”. While the reasons presented vary, some of the most common have been…

1) Undead are powered by negative energy. They have no positive emotions or trust to appeal to, exist only to destroy life, and are implacably hostile (I.E. their “Attitude” is fixed and unchanging). They are waiting for a chance to kill you, not listening to what you say. You might as well try to argue with gravity.

2) Lacking true souls, undead are complex automatons. If what you present seems to be a more efficient fit with their program than what they would be doing anyway, they may go for it – but their non-existent “attitude” (and thus your diplomacy skill) is irrelevant, only the logic matters.

3) All of human history (and the endless trolling on the internet) says that non-magical social skills just do not work like social skills do in d20. Ergo, d20 social skills are magical, mind-affecting, abilities and undead are immune to them.

4) Undead are far more alien then any actual living creature, or automatican made by living creatures. You can’t negotiate with them because whatever motivations and mental processes they may have are flatly incomprehensible.

5) You can’t negotiate with Deadites! (Or “I run my undead like the ones in my favorite movie/book/comic strip”). Alternatively, “Sure, you can try, but it’s at a -30!”.

And honestly… #’s 1-3 have some justification in the rules and the supplementary material (in both current and earlier editions) about undead. They may not be rules-as-written, but I can easily see why some game masters would take one of those positions as rules-as-implied. #4 is more of a physics-argument than a rules argument, and a bad one (at the least, vampires and liches do seem to have comprehensible motivations and logic, although ghosts may not depending on how they’re played) – but I’ve seen it used. #5… well, there’s no point in arguing with how a game master wants his game to work. That is a game masters privilege.

Ergo Eclipse includes a couple of abilities that explicitly let you negotiate with the undead and gave them a base attitude other than “fanatically hostile”. As specific abilities they would normally be assumed to override general objections – and if there weren’t any the other functions could still be of some use. They’re a bit like the entry on the Path of Infusions for blessing holy symbols and items. That’s a requirement that’s hardly ever seen any longer – but the ability is in Eclipse just in case some game master is calling it out.

The Dark Veil – the third ability of the Hand of Darkness path – is explicitly stated to allow you to erase memories of yourself from those nearby with a successful channeling attempt. However, it also has some preceding text that talks about you essentially being forgotten by history; it’s difficult to tell if this is flavor text for the actual memory-erasure power, or if it’s something that actually happens, albeit gradually, when you select this power. If you think that it is, Gather Information and similar checks  made about someone with this ability will likely take penalties (or even be impossible) after enough time has passed.

When it comes to The Dark Veil the description is, like pretty much everything in Eclipse, quite literal. When you take it, you become “a forgotten part of the greater darkness”. Your official records get lost or destroyed. Anyone who isn’t in regular direct contact with you (family members may or may not count) will recall you only vaguely, if at all. Stories about you get told about other people – or about unnamed protagonists. Your minor offenses get passed over. This isn’t always a fun thing, but who said that being a part of the darkness was always pleasant?

Dominion: For 6 CP you can have a mystic connection to the land, accruing both personal and political power through your ability to influence things within your domain. Insofar as skills are concerned, the most direction application is via a Boost, which lets you add a bonus directly for a certain amount of Dominion Points. Slightly more curious is the Inspiration ability, which says that you may Inspire (as per the Mystic Artist (q.v.) ability) for one day per DP spent.

The thing is, the Mystic Artist ability to Inspire isn’t a single ability unto itself. Rather, “Inspiration” is a chain of abilities. What this means is that, presuming that you don’t need to meet the skill bonus minimums for each ability (and I have no idea if you do or not; I’m just guessing you don’t), you can essentially pick whichever Inspiration ability you want to use when spending Dominion Points in this way. So if you wanted everyone in your dominion to be more aware of what you do as king, you could spend a DP to grant everyone Competence (setting the +2 bonus to Knowledge (nobility and royalty)) for a day. Though that might not be the best option, since they still won’t be able to make that check untrained.

Dominion’s Inspiration ability is once again a victim of compression. Like Crafting it says “you can” – and so you don’t need to meet the skill bonus minimums. Most rulers hand out a couple of tailored positive levels, but they can hand out some of the other benefits if they wish. That’s actually extremely powerful; it may only be 12 CP for each recipient, and they may all have to be the same – but 10,000 people with 12 CP worth of project-specialized CP can accomplish quite a lot.

Technically you could give them all spellcasting or something, but I’d want a really good justification for that.

Several other dominion abilities interact with skills to some extent. Multitasking can save you a lot of time when you have multiple things to manage, Gift of Tongues makes Decipher Script obsolete, and the Path of the Pharaoh can greatly affect your skills – but becoming a god can impact almost anything.

Martial Arts: This skill – which is actually an infinite number of sub-skills, much like Profession – is essentially the “skill-based magic system” for martial characters. Of course, that’s an artificial distinction; you can make a spellcasting martial art just fine, and the skill-based magic systems can be taken by characters that otherwise have no magic (presuming that they can scrape up the skill points). Still, as presented this section lends itself to martial characters first and foremost.

There are several notations in the opening for Martial Arts that are easily overlooked, particularly the rule that – while you can know more than one Martial Art – you can only make use of one at a time, switching between them as a free action. Just as importantly, you must use an established Martial Art to learn one that’s tied to an ability score; if a PC wants to invent their own style they can, but it won’t add any ability score modifier.

Rather intriguingly, this means that a character with an ability score penalty who wants to learn a style that would normally use that particular ability score is better off inventing their own Martial Art. That’s actually thematically consistent. If you’re extremely sub-par in a given area, then you’re probably going to need to go back to the drawing board and find a way to work around that. In practice, however, this will almost never happen; characters will simply choose a martial art focused on a different ability score (one with a bonus), or find a way to alter which ability score their chosen Martial Art is linked to (such as via Finesse, q.v.).

Insofar as actual Martial Arts abilities that are related to skills, as written the only one is Synergy, which grants you a +2 bonus to a chosen skill. Given that you only gain a new Martial Arts ability per 2 points of skill bonus, that makes this ability on par with simply buying the skill ranks directly (presuming that you can; e.g. it’s not a cross-class skill in a 3.5 skill system). Remember, you only gain that while actually using your Martial Art.

While not explicitly stated, there’s no reason that you couldn’t repurpose the Attack option, and possibly other options as well, to apply to skill checks with a particular skill instead of attack rolls. Theming a Martial Art around a skill check this way can create rather ridiculous results, giving you something like a Ranma 1/2-style “Martial Arts Craft (pottery)” that has you attacking wet clay to make pots out of it, or using Blinding Strike by slamming a pot over an enemy’s head, etc. If you don’t mind some wackiness in your games, you can have a lot of fun here.

Martial Arts rarely enhances other skills much, but I have seen a few characters invest in them just to get Synergy bonuses. At it’s simplest, if an existing art offers some synergy bonuses on skills you want and you have a decent attribute modifier for said art you can easily pick up two or three techniques (such as synergy bonuses) for one skill point – gaining +6 or more in synergy bonus. Admittedly, you can only have one martial art active at a time, but if you are using “ninjitsu” for it’s synergy bonus to Stealth and Disable Device, you’d probably want to use another art in combat anyway. The fact that you can only use one martial art at a time means that this is self-limiting – but a few characters have managed to work it in.

Under Martial Arts Ki Focus can provide a +4 Sacred or Profane bonus to a skill, but there are a lot more possibilities than that.

Mystic Artist: The Eclipse version of “bardic music,” this 6 CP ability effectively makes any kind of Perform skill into a source of power. In fact, it doesn’t need to be limited to a Perform skill per se; the text slyly mentions Knowledge (architecture) as a viable application. That said, it does need to be focused around doing something that people can see, hear, or otherwise perceive; it’d take quite an explanation to justify Mystic Artist keyed to Sense Motive! Likewise, remember special Mystic Artist powers don’t necessarily use the same ability score that the associated skill does.

As a note, the text has a rather curious sentence at the bottom of page 84: “No matter how many different mystic artist skills a character has, only count the highest for the purposes of getting Basic Abilities unless the character buys the Mystic Artist feat again specifically for use with another skill.” From what I can tell, this is saying that if a character has Mystic Artist for a skill with various sub-skills (e.g. Perform), then they need to apply it to a particular sub-skill, and other sub-skills aren’t counted unless another 6 CP are spent to tie one of them to Mystic Artist as well.

With Mystic Artist the bit at the bottom of page 84 is basically saying that “If you take Mystic Artist (Music) then you could use four possible variants of Perform – Percussion, Strings, Wind, and Vocal – to produce your effects, but only the highest score counts for determining how many different abilities you get and each performance draws on the same pool of uses per day. Now if you buy “Mystic Artist / Vocal” and “Mystic Artist / Strings / Harp” separately, then your vocal mystic arts, it’s uses per day, its ability choices, and any upgrades you may buy, are entirely separate from your Harping mystic arts.

For a sample character with several different sets of Mystic Artist abilities, we have Randolf Upton Pickman (and some comments thereon).

Mystic Artist has a number of Basic Abilities that are related to skills as well: Competence is the second Inspiration ability (which was briefly discussed under Dominion, q.v.), and grants a +2 bonus to one type of roll, which could be used for a skill check. It’s a morale bonus, which isn’t quite as good as a typeless bonus, but still better than having it be, well…a competence bonus, since that’s the bonus of choice for most direct skill-boosting effects. Note that this ability says “to any skill check,” which strongly implies that this affects all skills; that’s a subtle boost, since a lot of abilities make you pick a specific skill.

Block, the first choice of the Synergy Abilities, lets you make a skill check as a saving throw for yourself and nearby allies. That’s a powerful ability, since skills tend to be far easier to buff than saving throws. Moreover, even if the blocked effect doesn’t allow a save, they need to make a Caster Level check versus your skill check, which in most cases means that they’ll lose. That might seem too good, but the balancing factor here is the relatively narrow area of application – how many times do you face sound-based attacks, for example?

Come to think of it, there’s an active adventuring use for being a Mystic Architect; it wouldn’t take much of an ability tweak to let you use Block against traps.

Group Focus, the second Synergy Ability, lets you similarly substitute your skill check for someone else’s concentration check; this isn’t quite as strong, but is still likely to be helpful in certain cases (e.g. in Pathfinder concentration isn’t a skill). Moreover, this can alternatively bump up aid another actions by +2. If you’ve already pumped this up via Assistant (q.v.), then this can help that ascend even further.

Spirit Summons draws out a targeted creature so long as it’s in the area, but that’s not its major effect. Rather, this lets you add your Mystic Artist skill bonus to the results of a Diplomacy check, at least as far as negotiating and obtaining favors go. Needless to say, this is incredibly powerful…or at least it can be, depending on whether or not you limit what Diplomacy can do. Don’t forget that this only helps if you can make Diplomacy against a particular creature in the first place.

Spirit Summons brought up a note on Diplomacy, which turned into a fairly long article to be found over HERE. To summarize… according to the rules, the fact that the guard is now “helpful” doesn’t mean that he will let you in. It means that he will presume that you’ve inadvertently wandered into the wrong place and will try to warn you off or tell you who to see about permission to come in before trying to kill you. Secondarily… let us just note that I know quite a few people who’s company and help is invariably counterproductive – and they aren’t even ALIEN, they’re just incompetent.

Distracting allows you to force others to make concentration checks, with the DC equal to your Mystic Artist skill check result, to be able to “focus on their tasks.” Presumably, this means that they can’t complete them while you use this ability, allowing you to interrupt virtually anything so long as the target can perceive you and has a crappy concentration score! Normally, you’d expect this to draw swift reprisal (“turn down that racket!”), but for some fun combine this with the Subliminal modifier, and all of a sudden they’re going to be distracted without knowing why.

Distracting, sadly, can only actually stop activities that call for concentration and focus in the first place. Other things it can only inflict penalties on, cause sloppy mistakes in, and slow up. Thus distracting a Spellcaster may prevent him or her from casting spells at all since they require focus and concentration. A swordfighter on the other hand is only likely to take penalties on their attacks, armor class, initiative, and other rolls – or perhaps lose some of his or her attacks. Overall, it’s still a pretty hefty set of debuffs – especially if you take the Selective Targeting modifier on the path – but it won’t make it impossible for opponents to accomplish anything.

The Hidden Way allows you to cast spells as part of performing your art, essentially bypassing the typical aspects of spellcasting (e.g. discrete verbal and/or somatic components, etc.), though I’d expect that it still requires expensive material and focus components. The text makes a distinction as to how this disguises your spellcasting, noting that it not only grants a +10 to the Spellcraft DC to determine what magic you’re working, “but usually won’t be noticed as spellcasting at all!”

This is notable because it seems to presume that Spellcraft is active, rather than passive. That is, you need to say that you’re trying to identify a spell/magical effect, rather than simply being able to roll automatically if there’s such an effect nearby that you could conceivably perceive. How your group rules on that may affect how useful you find this modifier.

The trick with The Hidden Way is that, while a lot of applications of Spellcraft do not require an action, others do. Just as importantly, while identifying a spell being cast IS on the list, it requires that you “see or hear the spells verbal or somatic components” (presumably seeing the somatic ones or hearing the verbal ones) – and The Hidden Way eliminates verbal and somatic components entirely in favor of creating art. Ergo, two steps; first you have to realize that the mystic artist is casting a spell in the first place – which, since mystic artists are highly individualistic, isn’t too likely until after you’ve seen him or her work magic that way at least once before.

Of course, once you know what a mystic artist is up to, and have some idea of how this particular one goes about his or her “spellcasting”… you can try to figure it out with Spellcraft, albeit at a base DC of (25 + Spell Level) and the usual no retries.

Path of the Dragon: Among the strongest abilities in the book, Path of the Dragon only has a few powers that affect skills, at least directly. In fact, many of the more dramatic powers here, such as Heart of the Dragon, can be used for spells that have skill-related effects, but we’ll overlook that in favor of abilities that have some sort of direct interaction with the skill system, of which there’s only a few.

Path of the Dragon may not be strongest, but it’s certainly the most direct suite of powers in the book.

  • Body of Fire can be used to gain some skill bonuses by “wearing” a construct that provides them, but that’s hardly it’s primary purpose.

Kinetic Master notes that manipulating things from a distance imposes a -10 penalty when using them with skills such as Sleight of Hand, “which require tactile or close-up visual feedback.” Interestingly, while Will of the Dragon can boost the effective strength of this telekinesis, there’s nothing that can explicitly overcome the skill penalty. If you want to get around this, you’ll likely need either a special power that lets you project your senses, or an Immunity (q.v.).

Tongue of the Dragon allows for subliminal telepathy that grants, among other things, a +2 bonus to Charisma-based skills. Ironically, this applies to Use Magic Device (though any GM concerned with narrative applications obviously won’t allow that). More seriously, the skill bonus is the least of what this ability offers, but does a gain greater applicability if you have expanded what skills Charisma applies to (such as by Augmented Bonus, q.v.).

Tongue of the Dragon is a handy little untyped bonus – but you’re quite right, unless the game master is an animist, and feels that magical devices are all just a bit “aware” it probably shouldn’t apply to “Use Magic Device”. Of course it probably won’t matter; anyone relying on Use Magic Device for anything important will usually wind up taking much more effective ways to ensure that it doesn’t fail.

Ears of the Dragon is “receptive telepathy,” which seems to be the natural opposite (or perhaps extension) of Tongue of the Dragon. In either case, it grants a +4 bonus to Sense Motive, though that’s somewhat overshadowed by the continuous detect thoughts effect (to say nothing of automatically reaching into the minds of weak NPCs). According to a strict reading of the text, both Ears and Tongue can’t have their skill bonuses cancelled out by effects that protect from mental intrusion, but they probably should.

Awe of the Dragon allows for emotion-projection, with the “love” option granting an additional +2 to aid another checks. There’s a bit of ambiguity here, as to whether you can grant someone else an additional +2 when you “aid another” for them, or if you can grant someone else an additional +2 when they “aid another” for a third party (or, alternatively, when they aid you). By itself, that’s not very impressive, but it’s just one aspect of what this ability can do (and the “aid another” check need not be for skill checks anyway).

Awe of the Dragon affects everyone in the area – and so with the “love” option it doesn’t really matter who is getting assisted; anyone in the area gets an extra +2 when they use the Aid Another action.

Taskmaster, the first of the four skills in The Way of the Dragon’s Craft, are where Path of the Dragon begins to directly affect skills, and the results are dramatic. Being able to divide mundane skills (and only those) by your Intelligence score means that you can accomplish results that would take days in hours, and tasks that would take hours in a few minutes. Since you can still work for up to eight hours on projects, this means that you can potentially accomplish monstrously huge amounts of work in no time flat…so long as they’re extremely simple, such as crafting some armor.

The Way of the Dragon’s Craft isn’t really all that exciting – it’s not like there aren’t other ways to get things done quickly and skillfully – but there are a couple of items worth noting.

Hands of the Dragon is fairly mundane for what it offers, being a +3 bonus to all Craft, Knowledge, and Profession skills. Presumably, this is meant to be notable for the fact that each of these skills has (potentially infinite) sub-skills, all of which the character is now more skilled at. However, this would be the case for something that boosted all skills in general, or the appropriate ability score, etc. At this point, a small bonus, no matter how widely applied, isn’t the sort of thing that’s likely to be considered exciting.

This one is simply meant a step in moving up the chain – something that would necessarily go along with developing this particular suite of abilities. Once you’ve gotten the hang of applying little magics to speed things up, applying little magics to improve your work seems like an obvious next step. Still, at least it’s an untyped bonus, which is always nice.

Forge of the Dragon makes it so that you don’t need tools to craft (and those that you have grant bonuses). This is a power that’s stronger the more attention you pay to details, since GMs that hand-wave away needing things like needing equipment to craft, or allow for portable equipment, will make this something of a non-ability. If such things are strictly observed, however, then this can become a powerful ability indeed, since crafting that would otherwise be impossible now becomes viable regardless of whether or not the requisite tools are at hand.

This becomes a bit more important if the necessary tools simply aren’t available. Do you want to make microchips in a medieval setting? Have a recipe for the Resplendent Crown of the Dwarven Kings Artifact without access to the Hammer of Moradin that’s normally required to forge it? Cannot find a specialized tool with which to shut down that runaway nuclear reactor? Now it’s no problem!

Admittedly that kind of thing will never come up at all in many games – but anyone taking this ability sequence is probably going to be trying to push the limits.

Manufacture increases crafting speed ten-fold. Presuming that this stacks with Taskmaster (q.v.), you can conceivably create even large-scale projects in the blink of an eye if your check result is high enough. You still need the raw materials (especially if you also want to enchant what you make), but if you’re taking this power that’s probably not going to be a problem.

The trick here is that Taskmaster refers to small-scale mundane tasks – but Manufacture is not so limited. It accelerates creating items of any kind, so you can create magical items, or castles, or whatever, in one-tenth the usual time. Secondarily, Manufacture does stack with Taskmaster when it comes to small-scale mundane crafts – but only according to the usual rules for adding multipliers. That’s not as exciting as wrapping yourself in a dragonfire construct, but non-combat stuff rarely is.

 

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Eclipse and Skills – Abilities Part II

Alzrius wrote an excellent – and very lengthy – article on Eclipse and Skills, which got a similarly lengthy response. Given how awkward that is to read, Alzrius has kindly given permission to republish his original article and the responses broken up into more manageable bits. Given that this segment turned out to be nearly 16,000 words long once the commentary was added, it’s been broken up as well.

Karma: This ability, particularly when specialized for double effect/restricted to skills, is notably narrative in nature. I’d recommend corrupting it as well, in that the bonus gained when you spend karma points needs to be narratively-tied to a previous act that gained you karma. Doing so firmly ties this ability to its theme, and it a great way to bring the focus towards heroic deeds that make a difference to people, rather than just killing things and taking their stuff.

Karma is in the system for a couple of reasons – with the biggest being simply to provide a way to get bonuses for being heroic and dramatic. The caps were there to encourage characters to spend their Karma on more dramatic acts of heroism so as to make room for the Karma points they’d gain from that. Somewhat sadly… I’ve found that a lot of players treat Karma as an emergency reserve, and only use it when they’re desperate. I suspect that they’re too used to dungeon crawls where chances for heroism are few and far between. It’s really meant more for Captain America / Zorro / Robin Hood / Jedi types.

It’s also pretty setting-dependent, which is why it generally doesn’t appear in the sample characters. If your game master doesn’t give you regular chances to be heroic, Karma is of little or no use compared to – say – Action Hero/Stunts. If he does go in for in-character heroism… go to town. Be an action movie star or a big damned hero.

Lore: Lore essentially gives you a Knowledge skill that trades off your needing to purchase ranks for it in exchange for its coverage of its chosen field being fuzzy enough that it’s essentially “what the GM thinks is appropriate.” Believe it or not, this is not nearly as bad as it sounds – most GMs are going to have lots of backstory that they’re looking to find a way to present to the PCs, and this ability is a very useful venue for doing that.

Lore can be “Bardic Lore”, but it also works very nicely for “Science!” in the pulp tradition of generic scientists (or perhaps for the Professor from Gilligan’s Island), or “Dungeons and Secrets” (giving you an endless well of clues, maps, and possible adventures to draw on) or any similar I-know-a-lot background. And you’re absolutely right; it is very much the cheap way to be “Mr Exposition”.

Now if some campaign revolves around exploring the ancient megadungeon tomb of the black pharaoh of the local quasi-egypt… I suppose you could take “Lore: Ancient Civilizations”  and Specialize it for double effect and gain a detailed knowledge of likely tomb guardians, and the ancient priesthoods, and what kinds of traps were favored, and so on. It should be well worth it unless the game master decides to throw things at you.

Luck: Being able to re-roll a failed check, or simply getting an automatic 20, is incredibly powerful, which is why any GM worth their salt will place restrictions on how much Luck can be bought. If you can get away with it, buy Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/only for skill checks, and you can make five skill checks per day that are guaranteed to give you the best results you can get, for only 6 CP.

Luck – or “immunity to dice” – is one of the key abilities that defines most literary heroes and villains. When something has GOT to work in a novel for the plot to advance it just does, by authorial fiat. Luck is kind of cheap in Eclipse for more subtle reasons though; it’s an answer to “save or die” and “save or suck” abilities – and it’s to discourage the “lets just call for a lot of dice rolls” style of game mastering. That really isn’t that much fun.

Back with things that weren’t originally covered…

  • Mana with Reality Editing is one of the quick ways to make skills into powers. It usually doesn’t take much of an “Edit” to push a skill past all normal boundaries – so if you want to do that one in a while you can just take Mana, Specialized for Half Cost, Corrupted for Increased Effect (effects may be built up over time via ritual behaviors)/only to produce effects associated with Skills, requires a minimum skill bonus of +5/+10/+15/+25 to make Minor / Notable / Major / Grandiose edits (6 CP). If you want to do incredible things with a skill regularly you’ll want Skill Stunts (or a lot more Mana and Rite of Chi to regain it), but this will let you pull off the occasional trick with any skill.

Mastery: Being able to take 10 on skills that you normally couldn’t is one of those abilities that looks extremely attractive at first blush, but might not have as much use as you think. It’s usefulness will be directly proportional to how often you find yourself in a situation where – when making a given skill check – you have enough of a bonus for a roll of 10 to be (virtually) assured of success, but could still fail if you roll below that.

Since this ability applies to a number of skills equal to your Int modifier x 3 (minimum 3), you should pick the skills it applies to along one of two lines: either to skills that you think you’ll use fairly often, and so will keep (nearly) maxed out, or to skills that you’ll only apply a small bonus to, but only need to hit a static target. If you just want to make sure that you can get a high roll on those occasions when it’s absolutely necessary, take Luck (q.v.) instead.

Mastery is most useful for skills that have failure modes – “a roll of one that still succeeds results in a cursed item”, or “rituals always fail on a natural one”, or which you want to be reliable in combat. That is a rather limited group of rolls – but if a character has a high intelligence, Mastery may well cover pretty much every skill that he or she wants to bother with – and Eclipse encourages high-intelligence characters since it makes skills considerably more useful and allows for abilities to substitute for each other. As you note, it’s still a bit marginal in many situations – but if you like reliability in your skills, there it is.

It can pretty important to a skill-based magic user though.

Melding: This power is a bit of an odd duck. It seems to be its own version of the Cultural modifier to the Guises (q.v.) ability. The idea here seems to be that you don’t necessarily need to be in disguise to use this, though it can help with that. The major idea of this power seems to be that you won’t make any sort of cultural faux pas, and so might avoid some penalties to social-based checks. But between Guises and Adaptation (q.v.), it seems largely superfluous. Take it only if you want a convenient excuse for blending in to some foreign culture that you’ve never been to before, and which would apply major penalties for interacting with otherwise (e.g. “I happen to have written my thesis in Klingon Studies, so I’m quite sure I can lead the negotiations without starting a blood feud”).

Melding does let you easily mix with the crazy cultists and such, but it’s basically an answer to a campaign-specific problem – having to regularly interact with a bunch of incredibly touchy NPC’s. Do the local samurai turn everything you say or do into a reason for a duel because it doesn’t conform precisely to the cultural template in the game masters head? Do the locals kill anyone who fails to show proper respect to the statues of the gods* – which are, of course, all over the place in spots where an outsider would never see them? Take Melding, Specialized and Corrupted / only for culture “X” (2 CP) and you no longer have a problem. It’s out on it’s own because Guises assumes that you’re building up a false persona (and takes a good deal of time) instead of just being good at blending in, while Adaption protects you from game-mechanical penalties – not from enraged locals or from doing the wrong thing in the first place.

*Quite a lot of adventurers will just massacre the upset locals instead, but that causes it’s own problems.

Mindspeech: This ability needs to be discussed in terms of its Skill Sharing modifier. Being able to share up to 2 CP worth of skills and/or knowledge-based abilities to anyone you’re mindlinked to doesn’t, on its face, seem very worthwhile. Not only do you need to buy Mindspeech with the Mindlink modifier, but you then need to buy this one as well, and it only works for up to 2 CP of skill-based abilities…isn’t it better to just take Blessing (q.v.) instead?

Remember, however, that Blessing (even if you buy the ability to use it with multiple individuals) has limitations that this doesn’t. The big one being that you have to give away the ability you’re sharing while you’re using blessing, unlike here. Moreover, Blessing only works based on the difference in your abilities, whereas with this you could lend ranks in a skill to someone with more ranks than you (though you won’t be able to let them break their skill cap, or let the same bonuses stack).

More notable is that this doesn’t just apply to skills, but to “skills and/or knowledge-based abilities.” Depending on how you read that, it can apply to anything related to skills, so long as you can get it down to 2 CP. That means it’d only apply to abilities if you’ve specialized and corrupted them for reduced cost (or specialized and/or corrupted this ability for increased effect), but there’s a lot you can do with that.

If you have Rune Magic (q.v.) skills, for example, and the person you’re mindlinked to has some Mana and a high ability modifier in the same modifier that you’re using for your Rune Magic, consider granting them 1 rank each in [Rune] Casting and [Rune] Mastery. Presuming that their bonuses are high enough, that might be enough to let them use a 1st- or even 2nd-level effect. That’s not much, but if used creatively it might make all the difference.

The Skill Sharing option on Mindspeech does have quite a variety of subtle uses – but I must admit that the most blatant one is simply to bypass language barriers if your game master has them apply to telepathic effects. Secondarily, I wanted there to be a way to share some skills even if the game master had banned Blessing (which isn’t too uncommon). Of course, for real fun… give your bardic follower Mindspeech and have him inspire and assist you from the comfort of his own home.

  • Occult Sense can provide some fairly hefty skill bonuses, but that’s something that you’ll have to negotiate with your game master. Do you, perhaps, see visions about the history and behavior patterns of any creature you touch? That’s probably worth a hefty bonus on Sense Motive checks against such a creature and minor bonuses with a few other skills. Can you sense the internal structure of locks and devices? Know the provenance and value of anything you concentrate on for a few moments? On the other hand, unless it’s for a skill that you use a LOT, it’s generally best to leave such things as side effects of an Occult Sense that you wanted anyway. If it’s just a once-in-a-while bonus you want, you can just use Luck and skip the complications.

Occult Skill: Being able to buy a skill that’s not on the game’s normal skill list is an incredibly versatile ability. Since Occult Skills tend to be more powerful than normal skills (hence why they’re restricted), this is essentially a collaborative effort between the player and the GM to design a new skill that goes beyond what mundane skills can accomplish.

Some examples of this, in addition to the book’s Shadow Walk skill, are Accounting (no, really), Legendarium, Gadgetry, or Glowstone Alchemy, Faith or Gathering, Dwarven Rune Mastery, Subsumption, or Identities, Foresight, Governance, Ninjaneering, Dreambinding, or Secrets, Minions, or various Equipment skills, Action skills, and more!

This particular note turned up earlier – but it fairly obviously belongs here too. Ergo, I’ll repeat it.

Occult Skills are – quite literally – “Hidden”. You won’t see them on the list of normally-available skills for a given setting. That could be because they’re obscure and require exotic talents or very special training – or it could be because they rely on campaign-specific resources or world laws. The difference is quite important since – while a character could use Occult Skill to take any skill – some of them will not work without those special resources. Thus…

  • Glowstone Alchemy (and it’s Item List) is pretty useless if no Glowstone is available. You could take an Immunity to actually having to have Glowstone, but that’s getting a little extreme even if Glowstone Items include a few fairly unique ones.
  • Foresight simply says that “My character is crazy prepared and far smarter than I am!”. It will work almost anywhere if the game master is willing to put up with it.
  • Reality-altering Battling Business World Accounting draws it’s power from the Number Lords. In settings lacking Number Lords (or some GM-approved substitute therefor) it either won’t work at all or will be drastically reduced in power.
  • The Action Skills of the Shadowed Galaxy presume that Narrative Causality – the tendency for classical tropes and bits of stories to leak into the game – is actually a part of the setting (and thus exploitable without metalogic), rather than just an artifact of having a human game master or programmer setting up a plot or storyline. If that’s not true (or at least allowable for the amusement value) … then they won’t work.
  • The Equipment Skills of the Shadowed Galaxy pretty much replace money, wealth-by-level, and equipment costs – a fairly major hack of the basic d20 system. They also – as befits a scifi setting – make things like guns, communications gear, and vehicles available fairly early.

So if the game is set in the neolithic period, both Computer Programming and Medieval Siege Engineering will be Occult Skills and can be taken as such – but the lack of computers will render Computer Programming pretty useless if you do. Catapults, sturdy stone walls, and similar things will be within reach though, even if no one else understands a thing about your amazing magical arts of defense and assault.

  • Opportunist occasionally comes up as a way to make skills take less time or to combine them with other actions. That’s of limited use with most of the basic skills, but can be pretty handy if you have a relevant Occult skill you want to slip in there. It can also be a way to go to old-school skills – first attempting to resolve the problem narratively and – only if that fails – actually making a check as a second chance.

Poison Use: This ability won’t be used in most games, in all likelihood. Leaving aside that most campaigns have a tendency to ignore that 5% chance of poisoning yourself when applying it to a weapon/poisoning yourself when rolling a natural 1 with a poisoned weapon, the ability to make poisons tends to be a normal part of the Craft (alchemy) skill anyway. If you’re really worried about poisoning yourself, specialize this ability for one-half cost/doesn’t grant the ability to craft poisons, and make the Craft (alchemy) checks to make poisons as normal.

Poison Use doesn’t see a lot of use in the local games, mostly because the number of problems solved by fighting is relatively small, and of those fights many are against things that are difficult or impossible to poison – leaving relatively few chances to use poison in the first place. Worse, as you quite correctly state… few games pay attention to the self-poisoning rule and even fewer are using the obscure 3.0 rules under which Alchemy allowed you to identify poisons, but not make them.

Presence: This is one of the better ways to grant skill bonuses (or penalties) to those around you. It’s extremely short-range, and lower-power, but is permanently active. Note that this isn’t an effect that you can change once you take it, at least not without a very good reason, so choose wisely what effect it has.

If you take the Improved modifier, you gain a +4 bonus to all social-based skill checks, albeit only in a way that reflects the theme of your Presence ability. This works well as another typeless bonus that should stack with virtually everything else, although the GM has discretion over exactly how and to whom it applies.

There’s an odd notation in the Improved line, saying that “unlike the basic effect,” the Improved modifier affects everyone you interact with. Presumably this is in reference to the 10-foot radius of the normal power. So you’d still gain a +4 bonus (if applicable) even if you spoke to someone across a river or through a magical scrying sensor.

You’re quite right there; the social bonus from “Improved” is NOT limited to a ten foot radius.

Privilege: This ability doesn’t expressly grant any skill-related bonuses, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t. As a catch-all for having some sort of elevated social rank or similar benefit, Privilege can also be used for more esoteric forms of having a low-grade persistent advantage. If you’re a human and have Privilege/treated as an elf for type-based effects, for example, then you wouldn’t need to make a Use Magic Device check to activate magic items that are limited to elves only (which is why I was rather down on Device Use (q.v.) before). Of course, you’d need a good reason for why you have that ability in the first place, but it’s certainly viable.

Privilege is usually for social stuff – I’d probably build “the use of elvish items” as a Specialized version of Device Use (thanks to the fact that it’s so rarely applicable), but variants for minor magical or physiological perks are reasonable enough. If someone really wants to take “enough alcohol tolerance to out drink a dragon” (instead of buying a similar cheap immunity to Alcohol), why not?

Professional: Professional is one of the “big three” in terms of abilities that directly grant a bonus to a particular skill, with the other two being Skill Emphasis (q.v.) and Skill Focus (q.v.).

Despite being the ability that gives you the most bang for your buck – a +10 bonus for 6 CPs – Professional is probably not an ability you’ll see taken very often. That’s because it has an “early buy-in, late payoff” clause built into it. Since it only grants a +1 bonus every two levels, for levels gained after you buy it, this means that you not only need to take it at level 0 (essentially level 1, since level 1 subsumes the CPs you get at level 0), but won’t reach its maximum bonus until level 20, which most campaigns don’t ever reach.

Professional does become slightly more attractive if you specialize it for double effect, granting a +1 bonus every level to a maximum of +20, but this requires that you seriously limit how it applies to the chosen skill. This would be for something like Knowledge (engineering)/only for defensive fortifications, or Survival/only to follow tracks. If you don’t want to go quite that far, you could corrupt it (granting a +0.75 bonus every level, with any fractional bonus being rounded down), but that would require limiting it to more than one function of a skill, but not all of them, such as Handle Animal/only related to checks involving teaching or performing tricks (so it wouldn’t apply to checks to domesticate an animal, for instance).

Professional is pretty limited, and generally only appears in builds that center on a limited set of skills from fairly early on (most often a Mystic Artist or someone wanting to specialize in an aspect of skill-based magic). It’s actually another problematic bit of design; I generally tried to avoid having it matter when you’d purchased an ability – but there were a few like Fast Learner and Professional that that just didn’t work well with. They needed to provide ever-increasing boosts – but if you applied those retroactively, you soon reached the point where no one bought them until the retroactive bonus exceeded the cost – at which point you bought them for everything, since they were now effectively “free”. Ergo, the slightly-clunky compromise of having to keep track of when you’d purchased them.

If you do want to use it with Mystic Artist… there’s an example character and some comments over HERE that might help out.

Reputation: The positive version of the Poor Reputation (q.v.) disadvantage, this is essentially an ability noting that you’re famous.

The mechanics for this ability are two-fold. The first is simply a check to see if they’ve heard of you; this is distinct from Gather Information or similar checks – in essence, it’s sort of a special version of a bardic lore check to see if they are aware of who you are and some other basic facts about you. The second mechanic grants you a bonus (or penalty) depending on how much people like or dislike what your reputation tells them.

It’s notable that unlike Presence, this isn’t reliant on any sort of special aura the way that ability is. You can’t grant effects to the people around you, nor does directly conversing with someone subject them to any sort of effect that makes it easier for you to sway them. This is simply the consequence of having a famous name. Since this is a purchased ability, it will presumably work to your advantage more often than not, but there’s no helping that certain deeds are likely to carry a negative modifier with regards to people who’d naturally oppose them. A champion of the Heavens is unlikely to be popular with demons, for example.

Reputation is usually something that develops in play (and is usually spotty enough to be good for nothing but giving your opponents an impression of your powers and tactics) – but occasional players want to start with one, or at least to have some control over what kind of reputation they develop. It can be a pretty useful tool in finding work, establishing trust, and so on. It’s another ability that relatively few of my sample characters use, mostly because I usually prefer to let reputations build themselves.

Rider: The basic version of this ability functions as per the Mounted Combat feat, letting you make a Ride check to negate a hit on your mount once per round. This is a fairly straightforward translation, and there are several modifiers that mimic the rest of this particular feat-tree. Others go beyond, including the Vehicle modifier that lets you use these abilities for vehicles via a Pilot (or similar) skill check.

Of special note is how that modifier might, at the GM’s discretion, make the vehicle partially sentient, with basic mental ability scores. I suspect that this is meant to be indicative of cinematic tricks some vehicles are able to perform when their driver is making use of them (the reasoning being that they’d need to be alive to perform such insane stunts), rather than this making them like KITT from Knight Rider. After all, this ability by itself doesn’t let them speak.

The mention of a vehicle gaining basic mental ability scores under Rider is mostly animism – as backed by the influence of characters with more than enough magical power to make it real. This way your faithful vehicle can refuse to start for someone who’s trying to steal it, or fire a weapon to support you even if no one is aboard, and so on. You can generally count on this sort of thing happening if you apply the Faithful Steed template since that allows your mount or vehicle to show up by itself where you’re going to need it.

Now if your vehicle is possessed by a cat, like the Tank in Those Who Hunt Elves, you can probably count that as being Specialized.

  • Sanctum is an excellent way to get skills and other abilities that you only use during downtime. After all, characters are rarely specialized enough as alchemists, artificers, or inventors to do much with those fields while they’re actually out adventuring. One thing nobody has tried yet – and which I might not allow – is to take Double Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect/only for buying Sanctum (6 CP) to get a sanctum that they can redefine every few days – and thus quick and easy access to all kinds of abilities. There are ways to do that anyway of course, but at least most of them take a little more work.
  • Schooling is potentially relevant to skills – but in games which are actually based on Eclipse instead of just allowing it as a source for Feats, about it’s only real use is to overcome game master skepticism when your stone-age tribal hunter stumbles across an alien ship and levels up – and abruptly wants to spend a bunch of points on starship engineering, piloting, and expertise with technological weapons.

Self-Development: It’s easy to overlook the basic version of this ability, since it’s the Improved version that increases an ability score for all purposes. Nevertheless, you can spend 6 CP to buy a +1 increase to an ability score for a single purpose only, such as its bonus to linked skills. True, this isn’t economical compared to most of the other ways you could pump up a skill bonus, but it remains a viable option after most others have been exhausted.

I must agree on Self-Development; it doesn’t really see much direct use with Skills. Sure, it’s a valid application – but most people prefer to boost things that provide more direct power, such as “bonus spells”.

  • Shapeshift can be used to boost a variety of skills by taking forms which provide bonuses to them – but it certainly isn’t its primary function.
  • Shaping can be coupled with Opportunist to provide low-grade skill boosting effects – and can be well worthwhile for characters with a very broad range of skills since its freeform nature means that you can just set it up to provide a Circumstance bonus which will stack with pretty much everything. Alternatively, if you want minor skill tricks, you can specialize and Corrupt Shaping for Increased Effect (only for a limited set – perhaps 2 cantrips and a first level spell of abilities associated with each skill, invoking such an effect requires a successful skill check, any given trick is only usable once per day) and develop a selection of minor magics and special tricks.
  • Siddhisyoga can, of course, be used to boost pretty much anything given that it’s an alternative magic item system – but while related, that’s really a whole other topic.

Skill Emphasis: Another of the “big three” direct skill boosters, Skill Emphasis is the cheapest option, providing a +2 bonus for 3 CPs. While less economical than Professional (q.v.), this is far more likely to be taken, as it allows for a more immediate bonus to be gained at less of an up-front cost than the former ability offers. By contrast, it remains more economical than Skill Focus (q.v.), though it has no modifiers to augment it as that ability does.

Skill Emphasis is basically just the Eclipse implementation of the hundreds of feats that just provide a +2 bonus on each of two different skills (or on three under limited circumstances [Corrupted] or other Specialized variations). And like those feats… it’s reasonably efficient and not especially exciting. Unless you’re trying to reach a particular skill threshold – perhaps for use with Mystic Artist – early, Skill Emphasis is not going to be a marvelous surprise.

Skill Focus: The least economical of the “big three” skill boosters, Skill Focus has three levels at which it can be purchased, each of which gains you a +0.5 bonus per CP spent. The Mastery modifier is even less worthwhile, in terms of how much you get for the price you pay, but it’s there as an option if you absolutely need to raise your bonus even more. The Speed option is more useful, however, as it cuts the time required to use a skill in half. The text says that skills that require one round become a move action, but that raises some question as to what happens to skills that require a standard action; presumably they’re also a move action, awkward as that would be.

Overall, the best use of the above options is probably to spend 2 CP to buy a +1 bonus, because – presuming that the GM requires you to buy an abilities basic form before purchasing modifiers – that opens the door to what comes next: Stunts and Epic Stunts.

Stunts are, hands down, one of the best options you can take for skills in Eclipse. Although they require you to spend 2 Mana, or alternatively take 2 points of temporary ability damage, they open up a new world of options for the skill that you took Skill Focus for. All of a sudden, that skill can now access supernatural functionality above and beyond what it could normally accomplish. The DC will still be high, possibly insanely so, but it’s no longer impossible. Now you can make Intimidate checks against iron golems, use Sense Motive to detect invisible enemies by their “killing intent,” or make Tumble checks to move across an avalanche by leaping from rock to rock. Suddenly skills matter again.

If you don’t want to deal with ability damage whenever you use your chosen skill this way, try the following: take Mana, specialized/only for skill stunts, and corrupted/no form of natural magic. If you do that for reduced cost, you can buy 1d6 Mana for just 2 CP. If you do it for increased effect, you’ll receive 3d6 Mana for 6 CP. Either way, it’s a nice way to get some cheap fuel for this ability. In fact, this trick works for a lot of abilities that rely on Mana to power them, such as Rune Magic (q.v.) – just change what the Mana is specialized for, and you’re all set.

Epic Stunts, by contrast, essentially use the epic spellcasting system (albeit for any skill), requiring that you research each specific epic stunt, that you make a check to put it to use, and that you can only perform an epic stunt a number of times per day equal to your skill rank divided by 10. There’s a bit of a note here; although the text for this modifier specifically refers to “skill ranks,” you’ll need to determine if that’s being literal, or is meant to refer to the total non-magical bonus you have. If you want to keep this segregated to epic levels, then go with the former, but if not, then choose the latter (and if you use the former option with the Pathfinder skill system, make the +3 bonus for “relevant” skills be an exception, since otherwise this would be off-limits until level 24, rather than level 21).

Examples of epic stunts will vary wildly, since – as the epic spellcasting system demonstrated – developing each epic stunt will allow for them to vary wildly in power, from near-useless to completely broken. Some possibilities: using Sleight of Hand to pickpocket someone’s soul without them noticing as you pass them on the street, using Knowledge (history) to trace cause-and-effect relationships so thoroughly that you travel through time, or using Appraise to draw out the magical potential hidden within ordinary objects and temporarily change them into powerful magic items.

It’s worth remembering that you don’t need to limit Stunts and Epic Stunts to the campaign’s normal skill list, either. If you have skills such as Martial Arts (q.v.), magical skills such as Rune Magic (q.v.) or Thaumaturgy (q.v.), or Occult Skills (q.v.), those are all viable skills for which Skill Focus, and its modifiers, can apply. Just imagine what you could do then!

Skill Focus, of course, covers all those feats that provided a +3 bonus on a specific skill – but in Eclipse terms is less efficient because it’s the gateway ability that says “your skill is on the verge of transcending reality”. Secondarily… while I could hardly claim to cover everything without a gateway to the existing epic magic system, I must admit that the existing epic magic system doesn’t work very well  – so I left that gateway a little obscure.

The Speed option was mostly intended for non-combat uses – halving the time needed to make something with Alchemy or Crafting, or the time needed to climb a mighty peak – and is awkwardly phrased when it comes to combat time. These days I’d probably have added another forty pages to the book to make room for things like defining the action heirarchy (Full-Round, Standard, Move, Swift, Free, and Immediate) and made it 3 CP for half time noncombat/reduce action type required by one step (to a minimum of “Free” or “Immediate” as desired), 6 CP for one-third/two steps with the same minimums – but you can specialize things, or buy immunity, or get there in lots of other ways anyway.

Stunts are pretty much “access to very narrowly-defined fields of reality-bending” – and are often available even in worlds which disallow most other magic. Epic Stunts are more Reality Breaking – but epic powers usually are.

And as you note, the nice thing about Mana is that it’s so versatile that limiting it to fueling a specific set of abilities is often enough to consider it Specialized and/or Corrupted right there.

Spell Shorthand: This ability is only notable – insofar as skills go – for its Hieratics modifier, which not only gives you an inherent read magic ability, but as a consequence lets you prepare spells from someone else’s spellbook without needing to make a Spellcraft check. Essentially, this ability (like most of the rest of the modifiers for this ability) is concerned with the “fine print” regarding Spellcraft and spellbooks.

What’s more interesting is the italicized text right after this ability. This is another Eclipse rule, much like the ones for modifying skill points and checks near the book’s beginning, to make a single Spellcraft check (over two weeks of game time) to “master” a spellbook. Doing so lets you learn all of its spells, rather than needing to make separate checks for each one. It’s essentially an alternative version of Acrobatics (q.v.) just for this particular application of Spellcraft, except that it’s free.

  • Traceless can be handy with some skills. While it specifically calls out computer hacking, consider the interaction with Forgery (someone may deduce that a document or artwork is phony, but no trace of how it was done will ever be found), spies may want Traceless Search so that no one will be able to discover that they’ve gone through their rooms or luggage, and just imagine the prices a surgeon who could guarantee no scarring could charge. Even better… such things are mostly specialized applications, reducing the cost.

Track: This ability, like Rider (q.v.), is a direct translation of a feat (of the same name, in this case). However, it allows for alternative applications, such as in urban environments or even tracking magic. The modifiers for this ability are notable, allowing for the tracked creature to be studied with insights ranging from impressive to absurd.

More notably, the Style modifier allows for even more alternative methods of tracking via special senses; creative players will use this in myriad different ways (e.g. “when you spend enough time in the water, you learn that its movement is never truly random; each motion is because something moved it. Eventually, you can learn to feel that displacement, if it’s recent enough not to have been degraded by other such ripples, and identify what caused it and from what direction.” This would allow for tracking via a Swim check.)

Travel: This ability by itself doesn’t have a skill application per se, but the Trailblazing modifier has one. Specifically, it allows for random encounters to be noticed ahead of time with a successful Survival check, letting them either be avoided or prepared for ahead of time. Improved Trailblazing enhances this, giving you a 3 rounds heads-up even on a failed check.

This is an area where I’d recommend GMs be flexible with what constitutes “random encounters,” since use of this ability shouldn’t be penalized due to a (rather arbitrary) technicality. The point of this ability is to notice potential ambushes or other encounters before they happen, so that countermeasures can be proactively taken. At the same time, remember that it’s not some sort of supernatural danger-sense; this ability is based around being able to scout ahead and notice tell-tale signs of incoming danger. It shouldn’t mean that characters suddenly know when an enemy wizard is about to teleport in (at least, not without something like a skill stunt via Skill Focus, q.v.).

Travel, of course, hails all the way back to first edition – when rangers had an entire suite of abilities for dealing with the wilderness noted in a single line with no mechanics whatsoever to support them (although they were hardly unique in having noted abilities with no rules for them). It’s also when any preplanned encounter was treated as a small dungeon and the Wilderness was entirely populated by “random encounters”.

That was actually pretty logical really. Wilderness hexes were normally thirty miles across and your odds of getting lost were pretty high. Even if something had been placed in the hex, the odds of stumbling across it while traveling were usually less than 1% unless it was a town or the size of a mountain. The game master might note that if the random table turned up a dragon in a particular area it would probably be THIS dragon, but you might go back and forth through a hex with a dragon in it for years before encountering the dragon.

What with the current tendency to turn every encounter into an elaborate set-piece just roll-and-see-what-you-get is mostly out of fashion – but it is quite reasonable to treat every wilderness encounter as a “random encounter” anyway. The odds haven’t really changed, it’s just that the game is ignoring them now.

From the “Combat Enhancement” abilities (pg. 50-55) section:

Blind-Fight: The GM will likely need to maintain a firm line against PCs trying to extrapolate that modifiers to this ability should grant them out-of-combat sensory abilities as well, something that would only hold true if they purchased Sense of Perception. An easy rationale here is that the PC has honed their fighting instincts, which tend to react subconsciously, rather than being proactively utilized.

Characters that do take Sense of Perception are now in a somewhat awkward position. They can sense the structure of matter around them, including things like heartbeats…but other characters can still Hide (as per the skill, or similar skills) from them. In fact, as written the only out-and-out bonus this applies is a +10 to find hidden spaces.

The disconnect here is narrative in nature, as it’s hard to justify how a character can hide themselves (e.g. perform an activity designed to obscure visual, auditory, and other sensory information) from someone with the ability to directly sense the composition of matter around them. You sort of know you’re not alone if you can determine that there are other heartbeats around you, after all. If you can sense a dense mass roughly the size of a person inside a cake, you’re not going to be surprised when someone jumps out of it.

One possible answer is to reframe what it means to use Hide and similar skills, under the auspices that such skills wouldn’t be worthwhile in a magical world unless higher results meant things such as slowing their heart, lowering their internal temperature, canceling out their scent, etc. But this runs the risk of buffing such skills for free, and effectively negating (or at least reducing the value of) Occult Senses and other abilities that are designed to defeat mundane hiding, for which the characters have paid CPs to acquire. Moreover, this would mean that the GM needs to determine exactly when Hide checks start getting into supernatural ranges. So this might not be the best idea.

My recommendation would be to make this ability detect hidden characters automatically, unless such characters had a plausible reason (e.g. some sort of extraordinary circumstance, beyond a normal skill check) to explain why they could remain hidden. Probably one of the most obvious would be to take Skill Focus (q.v.) with Stunts to explain how they can hide from supernatural senses, but this could also apply to things such as hiding in an area that makes you indistinguishable from your surroundings (e.g. getting lost in a crowd) or using alchemical disguises (possibly ingested) that make you “feel” like something else (e.g. a reverse radiocontrast agent).

Blind-Fight is mostly an in-combat thing, although Darksense will probably keep you form walking into walls and tripping over things. Most people just carry a torch though.

The big limitation on the Sense of Perception modifier is basically sensory overload. After all, sight is a sense that your brain is entirely used to handling. So… glance across the night sky. You saw it all, right? Which of those dots were moving and are thus satellites or plane lights? How many were there? which ones were obscured by high-altitude clouds? Which ones show a hint of color? All that information was there, and arrived at your eyes – but how much of it did you actually process?

The three-dimensional structure of matter in a thirty foot radius is a similar immense flood of information. Big empty spaces – “there’s a basement under here” – are pretty obvious, and stand out. A person tucked in behind a chest full of stuff? You could easily miss that they aren’t a part of the wall, or trunk, or floor, in amidst all the other stuff you can perceive.

Thus the only automatic bonus is for knowing the general layout – “where are the holes?”. For most other purposes you’re going to have to pay attention to something in particular. That is worth a circumstance or insight bonus on a lot of things though. You may not usually pay much attention to your friends skeleton, but when you’re trying to split her broken leg being able to directly perceive the locations and positions of all the major bone fragments is definitely going to be worth a bonus on your Heal check.

Chain of Ki: The Third Hand modifier lets you essentially use a whip-like object as a natural limb, so if you really wanted to use Sleight of Hand to pickpocket someone from 15 feet away by manipulating a length of cord, you could. More notably, you could use this to make Climb and Jump checks with a whip with no penalties, Simon Belmont-style. However, there’s a limit to how far you can take this; if you want to use your full strength in this manner, you’ll need to buy the Strengthen modifier as well.

There’s likely to be some questions that come up if you upgrade Third Hand with Animation. Namely, while it can act on its own, the fact that it says it’s “per a small animated object” means that you’ll need to rule on if that means it can use skills or not, since animated objects as written have none (being mindless). My suggestion would be that it could use your skills, but limited only to physical tasks that it could reasonably accomplish.

The Animation option under Chain of Ki is mostly only important when you’re not actually directing things. It’s not very effective when it’s acting on it’s own – but it can wake you up if something happens, hold your head out of the water while you’re unconscious, turn one end of itself into a tourniquet while the other pours a healing potion into you, snag something while you distract the owner, or even attack on its own while you do something else – even if it won’t be too effective at at (unless, perhaps, you are wearing a Necklace of Fireballs or have given it some other easy to use magical device. Normally it can’t use your skills if you’re unconscious, but a modifier for that would be easy enough to add – either as a flat cost or as a small Immunity.

Evasive: It’s easy to overlook this with regards to skills, but can be quite valuable if there’s a particular skill you’re fond of using in a fight that normally provokes an attack of opportunity. The text for this ability calls out using the Heal skill (e.g. to stabilize someone that’s dying), but other choices could be Escape Artist (e.g. to escape from a net; that would be an uncommon action) or Ride (e.g. to control a frightened mount; also an uncommon action).

Favored Enemy and Favored Foe: These two abilities are so similar  (being the 3.0 and 3.5 translations of the same ability) that I’m going to cover both of them at once. That’s very much in the vein of Eclipse, as its italicized notation likewise applies to both.

The essence of these abilities is that you gain bonuses to certain rolls under certain circumstances. Deciding what bonuses (or rather, what the bonuses apply to) is fairly straightforward; while damage and a handful of specific skills are traditional, there’s no reason that they can’t be rearranged. The circumstances under which they apply are more variable – against specific races/classifications of enemies are standard, but a favored variant is to have them only apply when in a particular area(s). The book even notes that bonuses for mental skills might only apply towards certain topics, etc.

Be wary of attempts to combine the small bonuses on disparate checks/rolls into a single bonus on one check. While that might be appropriate for something like Berserker (q.v.), abilities like that have built-in limitations on how long they can be used for (and pushing those limits tends to cost more). By contrast, Favored Enemy and Favored Foe automatically apply whenever their circumstances are met, with no additional costs and no other limitations. As such, you should be very wary about allowing for higher bonuses in exchange for a narrower range of what they apply to. If you really want to increase the bonuses, go for specialization or corruption (e.g. taking Favored Foe, with a variant for terrain/forests, specialized for double effect/taigas only).

Favored Enemy and Favored Foe are another set of abilities that get shortchanged in the sample characters – mostly because Favored Enemy and Foe provide narrow, and often setting-specific, bonuses while the sample characters are intentionally a bit generic. Still, they are one of the best ways in the system to boost a specific signature spell or fight specific monsters.

I really should provide some examples of using them to bolster specific spells, or to create a magical duelist, or a scholar with favored topics, or some such. Perhaps a Truenamer type with favored topics, thus allowing them bonus uses for particular effects.

  • Imbuement is worth a mention simply because Eclipse explicitly allows variations – which means that there’s nothing preventing you from giving your toolkit bonuses of similar value to the value of a weapons bonuses – or imbuing your harp, or something similar. That means less these days, when it’s so rare for a character to lose a truly valued item, but the cost savings can still be well worthwhile.

Maneuver: This ability lets you defend yourself against an attack of opportunity with a Tumble (or whatever skill replaces that, if you use an alternate system) check against the attack roll, rather than relying on your static AC. Smartly, this ability is limited to once per round. Essentially, this ability opens up that use of Tumble against AoO’s, since normally that can only be done proactively.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t something you could do with Reflex Training, per se. Since that lets you take a specific standard action (or, technically, a move action) in response to a specific action occurring, the closest you could get would be to take a move action – using Tumble as you moved around – in response to an AoO. Though even then, I’d wonder if that was too common a circumstance to set Reflex Training against. Either way, if you want to avoid AoOs (and don’t want to take Block, which isn’t as crazy as it sounds), this is the ability you want.

Eclipse and Skills – Abilities Part I

Alzrius wrote an excellent – and very lengthy – article on Eclipse and Skills, which got a similarly lengthy response. Given how awkward that is to read, Alzrius has kindly given permission to republish his original article and the responses broken up into more manageable bits. Given that this segment turned out to be nearly 16,000 words long once the commentary was added, it’s been broken up as well.

Here is where we examine the meat of what Eclipse can do for your character’s skills. As noted above, this is only a sampling of what you can potentially do. Variants, along with specializing and/or corrupting abilities, can lead to all sorts of possibilities beyond what’s listed here.

One of the oft-overlooked strengths of Eclipse as a whole is that it allows for multiple ways to achieve a given effect, oftentimes for different costs. This is because, as a modular toolkit for building characters, it’s expected that some options will be modified or even outright banned for various campaigns. Most of the time, you won’t have all options in the book “on the table,” hence page 197.

Acrobatics: This ability lets you make a single skill check (the one with the highest DC) when performing several physical stunts. Although the text doesn’t say so, this is typically going to be limited to what you can do in a round. So if you to move quickly across a tightrope (effectively DC 25; actually DC 20 with a -5 penalty for moving your full speed), then leap over a 15-foot alleyway (DC 15), and over the head of an enemy on the snow-covered roof on the other side without provoking an attack of opportunity (DC 30; actually DC 25 +5 for an icy surface), you’d only need to make that last check.

The benefit here is obvious; only having to make one roll cuts down on your failure chances, since unless you have your skill bonuses high enough to succeed even on a roll of 1, multiple checks means multiple attempts to get a critically low roll and fail before completing the sequence of actions. However, there’s another aspect to this that needs to be taken into account:

The benefit that this ability accords a character is based on two different factors: how many different skills it consolidates, and what bonus the character has in the one skill that’s used (e.g. the one with the highest DC in the sequence). Because of these, the value of this ability will fluctuate depending on the skill list being used in the campaign (which isn’t very surprising; all abilities will have their relative worth vary according to the details of the campaign).

In the sequence of events described above, for example, using a skill list based on 3.0, 3.5, or d20 Modern would mean that the skill checks required would be (respectively) a Balance check, followed by a Jump check, followed by a Tumble check. Moreover, this would only be helpful (in the above situation) if you had a decent bonus in Tumble, as that has the highest DC. If you put more ranks into Balance or Jump, you’d essentially be negating those skills…which has the interesting effect of making you look for ways to increase the DC, so that you can use your highest skill bonus on the unified roll.

But in Pathfinder, all of those would be made with a single skill (which, ironically, is also called Acrobatics) anyway, meaning that you’d be using the same bonus each time. (Note that, in this case, the DC for moving through the enemy’s threatened square would be 5 + their CMD, and so it might not be the highest DC, not that that matters here.) So this ability is far less useful in a game that uses Pathfinder skills… though it’s still helpful to only have to make one check rather than three.

For some extra fun, combine Acrobatics with some effects that increase your movement rate and the Split Movement ability, making your character’s combat options much more cinematic. Throw in the Lightfoot modifier to this ability, along with Mana with Reality Editing, and you’ll effectively be a wuxia fighter.

Acrobatics has two additional benefits; since it cuts down on the number of skill rolls involved, it means that you only need one use of Luck or a big skill boosting effect to pull off some insane stunt – and it means that your checks are all a part of your main action. In theory you could add “while being sneaky about it” to add a Stealth skill check into every stunt – and since Stealth has an open-ended “DC” always use Stealth – but I encourage GM’s to penalize people attempting this sort of exploit.

Secondarily, making only one check is still pretty handy even if your odds of failing are quite low. If your stunt would call for rolls of 3+, 3+, 2+, 4+, and 8+… With Acrobatics you have a 65% chance. Simply rolling, it’s a 42.5% chance.

If a setting makes Acrobatics less useful by combining a bunch of skills… you can always just Corrupt or Specialize Acrobatics to be only usable with a modest set of skills, bringing it’s price down to match.

Finally, given that variations are explicitly allowed… I suppose you could use a variant that combines a set of linked nonphysical skill checks too. Go ahead, call it “hacking” and have your cyberpunk character combine Computer, Knowledge/The Net, Research, and whatever technical knowledge applies to extract some evil mega-corporations research on some topic (perhaps who’s been hacking their computers?) with a single roll. Does the process for creating an artifact call for you to personally mine and smelt the magical metal, forge the item, engrave it with magical runes, and consecrate it? Don’t want to make Profession/Miner, Craft/Metal Purification, Craft/Smithcraft, Craft/Engraving, Knowledge / Arcana, Spellcraft, and Knowledge / Religion checks today? Take “Master Enchanter” and skip everything but that (admittedly very high DC) Spellcraft check!

Action Hero: This has multiple options, each of which can affect your skills.

Heroism can be applied to skill checks, but compared to options such as Luck (q.v.), it’s hard to dedicate a limited resource like Action Points to doing so. Essentially, most skill checks won’t be critically important to the point of needing to bump them up with an Action Point instead of just re-rolling or taking a natural 20 the way Luck lets you. That said, if you’re extremely skill-focused, consider specializing this ability in skills only for double effect. That, together with Luck and some skill booster options, can get your checks up to truly stratospheric levels.

Stunt has no need to be talked up. Being able to temporarily grant yourself an ability you didn’t have before is universally applicable. Just buy one of the other abilities listed here when you really need it, presuming you can get it for 6 CP (remember, a lot of abilities are universal, and so can often be specialized to apply only to skills, either for half-cost or double effect, depending on how expensive they are).

Crafting is a bit of a head-scratcher. It says that it lets a character “with the appropriate skills and abilities” expend Action Points to overlook time and XP costs involved with crafting things (you still need to pay the relevant GP costs, however). The ambiguity comes from whether or not you still need to make the actual check(s) involved. The implication here is that you do – the point of this ability is to get around the downtime requirements involved in crafting, and so craft on the go – but on the other hand it’s awkward to think that a bad check result could see you wasting potentially lots of Action Points, which are a limited resource to begin with. Personally, if the player is willing to spend the APs on a big crafting project, I’d say that substituted for a successful check.

Invention allows a character to essentially transcend the skill system altogether. Creating entire new technologies is usually beyond what any particular skill check can do. Someone else who uses your new technology might need to make a skill check to do so, presuming that they can at all; it’s entirely possible that the skill in question doesn’t exist or is extremely restricted, depending on how many Action Points you paid to allow the technology to spread.

Influence strikes a balance between the previous two options. Like Crafting, it dovetails with a particular type of skills, in this case social skills. But like Invention, it lets you largely move beyond what they’re capable of. Most social skill checks are for short-term favors or conversations, often with strict limits on what you can get an NPC to do for you. With Influence, you can spend Action Points to move beyond that, without needing to make a skill roll. In fact, you technically don’t need any bonuses in any social skills at all to use this ability, perhaps reflecting something like bribery, blackmail, or other forms of influence beyond being diplomatic or deceptive.

When it comes to Action Hero I fully agree; Heroism really isn’t the best option, even if you spend the extra 6 CP to get a free boost once per day. Like a number of other things in Eclipse it’s in there for back-compatibility – although it can still be pretty handy in “realistic” (low magic/psionics/etc) games , wherein it may be the best general booster you can get (and can serve as – at least – a Specialization on other abilities that will call for the expenditure of an Action Point). Still, I usually allow better options in most of my games. I LIKE magic.

Stunt, of course, is one of the big “save my neck (and Part II)” powers – whether you need a moment of Immunity to Vorpal Weapons, a “natural” 20 on a save, a quick Feather Fall, or whatever, Stunt can get it for you. If you happen to be in a high lethality game don’t go without it.

To clear up one question… Crafting does not need a roll; it costs AP to complete projects – not to simply get a chance to complete them, and any project that failed would not be completed. (Besides… Pathfinders “make a roll instead of paying experience points” notion was introduced well after Eclipse was written – and isn’t all that well thought out; it can be abused in a LOT of ways and completely breaks the game if there are a few years between adventures. I suppose it could be used as a corruption, but I wouldn’t really recommend it). The requirement for the appropriate skills and abilities is to keep low-level types from potentially producing very high end items just because they have a few levels worth of points saved up and to make sure that items that required particular skills or racial types to make continued to do so.

Invention and Influence both serve a similar purpose. They provide a limited downtime resource and a way of spending it narratively (for more Narrative Powers look HERE). That way it can be used by those who take an interest in influencing the setting while avoiding soaking up too much game time (and boring those who aren’t interested) while still pushing user’s to adventure and gain more levels. Essentially it’s a patch for the disconnection between timescales. Adventuring usually occurs in minutes, hours, and days. Realistic downtime activities usually occur in weeks, months, and years.

So which is better? Spend three months training the army, and another to build field fortifications and reinforce the guard patrols at the passes – or for the party to go on forty to sixty adventures, pick up ten or fifteen levels, and simply take over the enemy kingdom with raw, personal, power?

It’s pretty obviously the adventuring. After all, that’s what the game is about and picking up ten or fifteen levels means that you can now pretty much ignore little things like “armies”.

Yet if you speed up downtime enough to make it a meaningful activity in comparison to adventuring as Pathfinder does it tends to suddenly become a font of near-limitless funds and influence – as the recent writeup for Halphax so clearly shows.

Ergo the use of dedicated, level-based but otherwise non-recovering, Action Point pools. You can do downtime stuff, and you can do it fast enough to make it effective in “adventuring time” – but you can only do so much of it before you have to get back to the adventuring.

Adaptation: This is the ability to take if you want to avoid skill (and other) penalties from being in a hostile environment. It won’t negate any damaging or lethal effects, but if you’re spending a lot of time in a place that’s requiring skill checks where none would normally be called for (e.g. checks to avoid losing your balance in an arctic environment), or penalties to checks that you want to pump up, use this.

In all likelihood, however, you won’t need to purchase this directly, simply because most games either aren’t primarily set in such a hostile environment, or will supply a method to overcome it if they are (e.g. you’re playing a race that has this ability as part of their racial traits). If you need this ability in the short-term, using something like Action Hero/Stunt in order to pick it up (if you can’t use something else, such as a spell, to achieve a similar effect).

Adaption, of course, is mostly there for character flavor. Your dread pirate captain is likely to have it for being on board a ship simply because it fits his theme. It also, of course, represents a player vote; if he or she has taken Adaption for a character, then he or she wants to spend some time in that environment – and the game master should oblige on occasion. Let the spotlight to shine on the dread pirate captains nautical skills and expertise. Maybe next week it will be the turn of the wilderness ranger, as he guides the group through the perils of Skull Island in search of the hidden temple.

Adept: Eclipse openly states that this ability is one of the most powerful in the book, and it’s right to do so. Being able to buy skill ranks at half-price, for four skills no less, may not sound very strong, but it is. Essentially, you’re taking around 80 CP worth of skills, and paying 6 CP to be able to buy them for 40 CP instead. That’s well over a levels’ worth of savings! You’ve now freed up a tremendous amount of CPs that can be spent elsewhere, which is where this ability’s value comes from.

To make things really crazy, buy Adept along with Fast Learner (q.v.), with the latter specialized for double effect/only for skill points, and corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for Adept skills. You’ve now paid 10 CP, and in return the four chosen skills will automatically max themselves out at each level. That’s 10 CPs spent for 80 CPs’ worth of skills. GMs be warned if you see your players abusing this trick.

Adept is in there because – as you have already pointed out – most classical d20 characters wind up with a handful of “must have” combat-related skills maxed out and (if any skill points are left over) a few points spent on semi-random things for characterization. Making skills really important in the game calls for either drastically upgrading what they can do in comparison with magic (or psionics or whatever you call the settings favored version of reality-bending) or for greatly reducing their cost – or for a little of both. Ergo, Adept and Augmented Bonus to make them cheaper and/or increase their bonuses, Occult Skill allows the easy introduction of more powerful skills, and Acrobatics and various other options allow you to make your existing skills far more effective. I did indeed want to make skills mean something again.

Assistant: Using the “aid another” action is one of the least “sexy” actions you can take, since you’re essentially giving up your turn to make someone else slightly better at something. There’s even a check involved in doing so, albeit one that’s so low that it’s essentially a pro forma thing.

Paying 6 CP to double your bonus isn’t really that attractive of an option either. Really, the only way to make this worthwhile is if you increased the bonus. Insofar as skills are concerned, specializing this to apply only to skill checks means that (if you pay the full CP) you can double the effect, so you’ve changed the +4 bonus into a +8 one, which is a lot more attractive. Corrupt it to apply only to a single skill, and that rises to an astonishing +12 when you aid another on that skill! (Every other aid another check you make will still be for a +2 bonus, though.)

This is part of the real usefulness of this ability (more for GMs than players): it has the power to turn someone into a mcguffin. Why does the Dark One want to kidnap the Radiant Princess so badly? Well, because she has this ability, specialized and corrupted as described above for Spellcraft, and then specialized again (normally a big red flag, but in this case useful as a plot device) to only apply to the Occult Ritual (q.v.) of Awaken the Primordial Devourer. So he if can snatch her and force her compliance, she’ll grant him a +24 on his check to perform the ritual and bring the evil god back to life! Boom, there’s an adventure seed right there.

Assistant (at least as something to have in your party in its basic form) is generally best taken BY assistants. You give it to your familiar, or to an actual assistant or have your friendly bard bestow it temporarily. I have seen a few characters combining it with Opportunist to let them help out without giving up an action to “pay” for it though. That lets them be the helpful guy or wise mentor who gives useful advice even while they’re fighting or doing something else – and being able to hand out a +4 bonus at whim can be quite a lot of help to a party.

Come to think of it, combining that with a familiar or two could get you quite a boost to pretty much everything you did. Another possible character to write up there…

Augmented Bonus: Like Adept (q.v.), this is one of the strongest abilities in Eclipse, letting you add a second attribute modifier to something. The text is fairly clear about how this affects skills, as the basic ability allows for adding to a skill or set of skills (e.g. adding your Wisdom bonus to Intelligence-based skills).

The far stronger use of this ability, however, is if you can take the Improved and Advanced modifiers so that you can apply this to your skill points per level. If you have a high attribute bonus, along with a high Intelligence, you can potentially gain huge allotments of skill points at each level for free! Given all of the other things you can do with skills in Eclipse, that’s a major reason for GMs to keep a close eye on this ability (which the text says to do anyway).

An interesting twist to adding a second attribute to your skill points per level is that this makes stat-boosting items for that ability score grant additional skill ranks, the same way Int-boosters do.

With Augmented Bonus… if you throw in a second attribute modifier for skill points per level, the two permitted instances of Adept, and Fast Learner Specialized in Skills, you can fairly readily get at least ten skill points per level (effectively fourteen with Adept) from then on – and you’ll have plenty of points available each level to buy skill boosters, luck, and access occult skills. It won’t be “UNLIMITED POOOWWEERRR!” but you can definitely be Batman, and compete with the primary spellcasters much more effectively than most skill monkeys.

Berserker: As amusing as it is to consider, there’s no reason why you couldn’t take Berserker with regards to skills. The short-term nature of this ability means that you won’t be able to use it for long-term projects, and it might be hard to thematically justify using this power for mental skills (e.g. Knowledge checks), but there’s no reason why you couldn’t “hulk out” with regards to a physical skill such as climbing or jumping.

For a particularly useful way to apply this to a skill, tie it to Martial Arts (q.v.). Doing so immediately grants you several bonus abilities, and can represent a “second wind” or (more amusingly) you having a sudden flashback to a lesson that your master taught you that just so happens to be perfectly applicable to your current situation.

Berserker does indeed work just fine for skills. Why not tune in, drop out, and “Channel the Cosmic All” (add to Int, Specialized for Double Effect/only affects Skills, Corrupted/Knowledge Skills Only, 4 CP)? Go ahead. See All and Know All (or at least a lot more than usual) for a mere handful of points. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone use Berserker for Martial Arts Master Flashbacks before though. That’s a very amusing notion!

More practically, there’s no reason why you can’t employ Berserker to represent almost any kind of focus on a task or short-lived boost. Do crime scenes throw you into a deductive trance that greatly boosts your perception and deductive abilities? Can you draw on a burst of dark power (caster levels and your primary casting attribute) to lend your magic greater power in an emergency? Can you channel the essence of stone to boost your damage reduction? Why not?

Blessing: Another ability that lets you sacrifice in favor of someone else, Blessing is surprisingly versatile as written, since it doesn’t seem to require that it be tied to any particular ability when you take it. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have very many limitations at all (which means that you can add those in by specializing and/or corrupting the ability to increase its effects or save on its price).

One way to put this to good use regarding skills is to grant other party members ranks in your Hide/Move Silently (or similar) skills, neatly solving the perennial problem of having a heavily armored character try to sneak past some guards, where a failure gets the entire party caught. Just remember that you lose those ranks while you do so.

Blessing often does sacrifice for others. Having an NPC doing it makes a good plot device; perhaps a once-legendary but now old and crippled adventurer lends out some of his old talents to some youngsters who can make use of them on a quest (and hopefully pick up enough skills of their own to continue their careers after the old master dies), or the powerful priest who cannot intervene for political reasons gives some deniable agents some boosts – but more limited versions for sharing particular abilities with others is also very handy. Player characters will want the version that affects multiple targets if the game master lets them get away with it – and from there they can just include themselves. Now the entire party can sneak, or sail “under your command”, or whatever.

Hm. You could also use Blessing to loan out sub-aspects of Blessing – giving other people the power to loan you specific skills. You could thus simply take some Contacts and rent a needed skill for a few days – or take Leadership and borrow a few skills from your collection of experts. It would be a bit of a strange build, but a merchant lord who simply rents the powers and abilities he needs could be a rather interesting character – or encounter.

For a few items with more specialized skill-related aspects that weren’t originally discussed…

  • Celerity with Additional Movement Modes does provide the usual +8 bonus to relevant checks for having the movement mode. So if you pick up Flight, or a Swim speed or some such, there’s a nice little skill bonus that comes with it.
  • Companions can grant all kinds of weird bonuses, (and MORE and MORE) including skills and upgrades thereof. You can also play weird games with giving your Companion a Template and then taking Transform – but your game master may or may not let you get away with that. Even if he or she doesn’t though… some forms come with fairly useful skill bonuses of their own. How about a “Cat Burglar” with two or three Companions – perhaps a Cat, a Raccoon, and a Falcon – and Transform?
  • Contacts won’t do anything for YOUR skills, but are often useful when you want to access a skill that no one in the party wants to buy. Master Forgers and such will often be NPC’s.
  • Create Relic can be used to boost skills – but then Relics can be used access virtually any ability, so we’d just be referring to other abilities anyway.
  • Domain/Path Metaspells often call for skill checks for effective use, but that’s not really a skill modifier; just an additional application.

Device Use: This ability doesn’t seem to have much purpose besides negating the need for Use Magic Device checks. Presumably it exists for those usage requirements that a UMD score can’t bypass, regardless of your check result, but anything that stringent probably wouldn’t allow for this ability to work either. You should probably only take this if there’s a category of items you think you’ll want to use with some degree of regularity, but can’t normally activate, and can’t take ranks in UMD…that’s pretty freaking specific, though.

About the only other use for this ability I can see is to package it into a racial build, where your race counts as another for the purposes of activating a particular item. Normally, counting as a member of another race would be something I’d set to Privilege, but activating a category of magic items – with no other modifiers or considerations – might be slightly beyond that.

Device Use isn’t as general as Use Magic Device even if you take something like “Wizard Items” (like the Magic Domain) – but it does have it’s advantages. It’s quite reliable even at low levels, it doesn’t have that annoying clause about rolling ones, and you don’t have to know what to emulate. Still, where it mostly turns up is in non-caster builds. For an example, take Device Use (Wands, 6 CP), a bit of Mana with Reality Editing (Specialized and Corrupted/only to allow the user to trigger a wand without using a charge, a minor edit costing 2 Mana, 4 Mana, 2 CP) and Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses (Specialized and Corrupted/only to recharge the user’s wand-triggering pool, 4 CP). Now invest in some cheap one-charge wands (or spend a third feat-equivalent to get some Innate Enchantment) and you can pull out a couple of decent spells for each fight. Use Magic Device is still better once you put on a few levels of course, but it’s also a somewhat bigger investment in the end. If you already have access to a lot of items (say you’re a cleric or a mage) the savings may be well worth the slight loss of versatility.

Now, if the GM is incredibly stupid very generous and you want to make the Wizards and Sorcerers cry… Take:

  • 3d6 Mana, Specialized and Corrupted / only for powering magical staves (6 CP)
  • Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only for Mana, only to refill the “powering staves” pool above (6 CP).
  • Empowerment, Specialized in Staves for Unlimited Use (6 CP).
  • Siddhisyoga with Inner Whispers. Specialized / staves only (6 CP).

Now use Siddhisyoga to buy yourself a Storm Stave (CL 15. Control Weather (3 Charges), Chain Lightning or Empowered Lightning Bolt (2 Charges), and Solid Fog or Sleet Storm (1 Charge), 114,375 GP) – but with only one charge. That’s a mere 4575 GP even after doubling the cost for Siddhisyoga.

If you really want to be obnoxious, buy yourself an upgraded Stipend (12 CP) at level one (for a starting wealth total of 12,000 GP) and a total buy-in cost for this mess of 36 CP. Now buy yourself some more one-charge staves – perhaps Healing for 1110 GP (CL8, Lesser Restoration or Cure Serious Wounds for 1 Charge, Remove Blindness/Deafness for 2 Charges, Cure Disease for 3), Frost for 2250 (CL10, Ice storm or Wall of ice for 1 Charge, Cone of Cold for 2 charges), and Illusion(CL13, Disguise self, Mirror image, or Major image for 1 charge, Rainbow pattern or Persistent Image for 2 charges, and Mislead for 3 charges) for 2600. That leaves you with 1465 GP to buy regular equipment with.

It will take another six months to save up t0 add a Staff of Passage (CL17, Dimension Door or Passwall for 1 Charge, Phase Door, Greater Teleport, or Astral Projection for 2 Charges), but why not?

Now don’t ever use a charge if you can possibly avoid it. Just power them with Mana. That gives your first level character an average of 32 “charges” per day to spend. Go forth my Master of Staves, and destroy both your enemies and all pretense of game balance! Go up a few levels and buy more Mana and Staves and Bonus uses on Rite of Chi and show those primary spellcasters who’s the big boss of magic!

With a relatively small additional investment of CP for more mana / bonus uses for rite of chi, and a little more money for more staves (which, with Siddhisyoga, you can upgrade in caster level freely)… you can easily have caster level twenty, both arcane and divine spells of up to level nine, more total levels of spells available than a 20’th level sorcerer, far more “spells known” than that sorcerer (or any wizard who doesn’t have near-limitless funds), and all the fun and freedom of slot-free spontaneous spellcasting with a readily expandable spell list by the mid-levels if not earlier.

Yeah. Don’t let characters do that. It’s not as bad as level one Pun-Pun, but it would be just about as destructive to your normal game.

Enthusiast: Gaining 1 Character Point that can be reallocated every 72 hours doesn’t seem like a big deal (especially when you can’t spend this on specific knowledges (q.v.)), but here’s something interesting: notice the note on Create Artifact about how, for 1 skill point, you can know the “recipe” for how to make a unique magic item. Well, go ahead and use Enthusiast for that, and voila; the skill point that keeps on giving!

Beyond that, it works for several other quirks as well; skill specialties and negating untrained penalties are both great ways to reallocate where this 1 CP applies. And that’s without adding the Double modifier, let alone specializing it for something like skills.

Enthusiast is handy for adding little tweaks to things isn’t it? Picking up the local language, or a specialty in the local culture, or a spell formula, or some contacts, or any of quite a few other little things specific to your current needs, can be very helpful.

For Spell Formula it would probably be best to insist that anyone picking up one pick up two with a Specialization (the formula is too unstable or something to be recorded or put into a scroll) instead. Otherwise spell research becomes a quick and trivial thing.

Executive: This is the much more plausible way, compared to Blessing (q.v.), to grant skill bonuses to other people under your direction; at the very least, it can work on multiple individuals at once, and doesn’t require that you give up anything (save for an action to direct them). Interestingly, you don’t need to have any ranks in the skill that you’re providing a bonus to. So maybe you can’t actually Stealth at all, but by god you can help everyone else do it better!

What’s more notable here is that you can grant a bonus to all skill rolls devoted to accomplishing a particular task, rather than just a single roll. So if you’re coaching someone through catburglary 101, this will help with picking locks, disabling traps, hiding in shadows, etc. Naturally, you can specialize this for double effect if you restrict it to a particular skill.

The CEO modifier can apply this bonus to a large number of individuals, particularly if you purchase it more than once. It’s difficult to comprehend how you could apply such a skill bonus to several hundred, or even thousand, people working on concert; what exactly would they be doing in the first place? Maybe some sort of large-scale crafting project, or everyone is performing a spontaneously-synchronized dance number.

Executive allows characters to enhance entire organizations – although admittedly the large-scale modifiers are really only at their best when you have an equally large-scale task. Still, if you’re building a fortification, or directing the guards in searching or defending a city, or some such… giving a couple of thousand guards a +10 bonus on Spot, Listen, and Sense Motive when watching for spies and attackers and a +5 to Attacks and Damage when actively fighting against them isn’t bad at all. After all, they have to be working towards the same overall goal – not necessarily all be performing the same task. Thus if you’re building a pyramid, or founding a town, or building a mighty ship… there are people quarrying stone, people shipping it, people hauling it, people making mortar, building ramps, making rope, and a hundred other tasks – including drawing up the plans. Go ahead; give a big bonus to everyone involved.

It still may not be something most player characters want very often, but that’s what minions are for.

Finesse: This ability lets you swap out one ability score modifier for another in a particular regard, such as using your Wisdom modifier for your Charisma-based skills. The advanced version functions for something more common, such as the attribute that grants you your skill points per level.

This ability has costs that are largely commensurate with Augmented Bonus (q.v.), which begs the question as to why anyone would take this instead of that. The answer – leaving aside the aforementioned caveat that not all abilities will necessarily be available in any given game – is that there might be situations where you don’t want a particular ability score’s modifier to apply anymore. If you have an ability score so low that it provides a penalty, rather than a bonus, it makes more sense to swap it out for another ability score, rather than bring in another ability score’s bonus alongside it.

Finesse is pretty straightforward – although it’s also perfectly possible to combine it with Augmented Bonus. That way you can add your two best ability modifiers to something instead of one good one plus one bad one – at least in some situations. Occasionally you may just want to shift to an ability score that easier to boost.

Guises: This ability exists largely to make the Disguise skill relevant in a world of magic. While using mundane disguises has long been a clever way of fooling abilities based purely around defeating magic disguises (e.g. true seeing), that only goes so far.

This ability, with its modifiers, covers a quite a range of mechanical effects. The basic effect, along with the Cultural modifier, target background details, essentially paying for the privilege of overlooking those issues. The Racial and Quick Change modifiers get into the uses of the Disguise skill, eliminating the penalty for disguising yourself as a different race, and using the Disguise skill as a move action rather than requiring tens of minutes, respectively. (I’d personally eschew the Racial modifier in favor of an Immunity (q.v.) to several of those minor penalties to Disguise, such as for race, sex, age, etc.)

It’s with the Mental Guise and Split Persona modifiers that this ability thoroughly transcends the mundane. The former defeats most magic that would penetrate your disguise, while the latter actually lets you move your skill points around when disguised (though only a little). This can be quite powerful if your disguise has exotic or unusual skills, such as a Martial Art (q.v.).

It can be fun to specialize Guises for Increased Effect (perhaps it takes a day or so to get into a role) and trade around 20% of your skill points. Immunities will work too of course – thus the magical girls with an immunity to anyone associating their real and costumed identities – but game masters may not always allow immunities. Few of them have objections to Guises though.

Hysteria: It’s easy to see Hysteria as a version of Berserker (q.v.) that grants less of a bonus and requires you to fuel it with magic or ability damage. However, Hysteria lets you apply its bonus to something different each time, so long as it fits with your chosen theme (e.g. magical, physical, or mental). To that end, skills are a viable choice, as the text itself notes. So this can fuel a concentration check to maintain a spell or your ranks in a particular magic skill (e.g. a particular Thaumaturgy, q.v.) if you’ve chosen magic, for example.

Hysteria, of course, is in there to represent driving yourself past all normal limits. Do you want to be Rock Lee from Naruto and drastically boost your power by opening the “gates” and taking damage? Have the ability to channel a tidal wave of emotion into your magic and overwhelm someone who should – in theory – be a stronger mage? Then Hysteria is the power you want to be holding in reserve.

You can just buy it without restrictions and treat it as a tactical option of course, but that’s not nearly as much fun.

Immunity: Although it doesn’t look it at first glance, Immunity is one of the most versatile abilities in Eclipse, albeit one that requires more permission from the GM to use. With regard to skills, Immunity can let you potentially ignore various restrictions on the skill system itself. For example, you might have a character that’s immune to the limits of the Heal skill, or even immune to having to use a more-restrictive skill list in favor of a more consolidated one!

On Immunity, I still rather like the Truenamer variant or the Martial Artist (the same fellow with the condensed skill list mentioned above) who is using much the same trick when it comes to modifying skills. Buying the ability to temporarily expend skill points to produce magical effects can easily cover super martial artists, sages, and any other magical type with powers based on taking a skill beyond all mortal limits. Still, there are a LOT of ways to modify skills with Immunities. Exceed the normal limits, use them for direct spellcasting, or protect yourself from various effects by buying skill-dependent immunities. It’s worth remembering though that skills can be used in any fashion that the game master is willing to accept without any special abilities at all – and that the game master may opt to apply rules like the Synergies and Skill Benefits section of this post.

Inherent Spell: It’s easy to overlook this one in terms of what it can do for skill-based abilities. While lower-level spells that provide a modest boost to skills are probably better off being used with Innate Enchantment (q.v.), consider using Inherent Spell with a larger “bang for your buck” spell. Such a thing is typically going to be a spell that only applies a competence bonus to one skill in particular (see the “(Skill) Mastery (Various)” spell template in The Practical Enchanter, p. 14). Being able to use a mid-to-high level version of such a spell just a few times a day can, if set for a single skill, provide a serious magical boost.

If picking one skill is too narrow, try and take the greater invocation spell (The Practical Enchanter, p. 176). Limiting it to skill-based competence bonuses will let you make any version of a spell from the aforementioned spell template up to one spell level below the greater invocation spell, allowing for a huge degree of versatility.

Innate Enchantment: Innate Enchantments are typically used for unlimited-use use-activated spell effects, which makes anything above a 1st-level spell tend to be prohibitively expensive. As such, these are best used for buying some low-level skill boosting spells off of the various spell templates in The Practical Enchanter.

Of course, there are various abilities that nicely complement what’s here, allowing you to maximize the applicability of skill boosts taken this way. Empowerment can be taken to bump up the caster level (since you’ll need to have set it to 1 due to pricing issues). The Amplify Metamagic Theorem, typically bundled with sufficient Streamline to cover whatever effect you want and specialized and corrupted to only apply to skill-based Innate Enchantments, can increase the base effects heavily. And of course, if you can purchase an Immunity (q.v.) to your Innate Enchantments being dispelled, countered, or subject to antimagic, that effectively makes them extraordinary abilities, and so they’ll apply even to things like Rune Magic (q.v.).

Innate Enchantment is the go-to ability for picking up a pile of small bonuses isn’t it? Still, like most of the “you can use a spell or spell effect” abilities in Eclipse it isn’t limited to existing spells, so there’s no reason not to get some interesting skill-modifying effects. The Trickster Mage package has a few of those, but there are lots of other possibilities.

Innate Magic: This is one of the abilities that seems to get passed over a lot, since it not only requires 6 CP to buy, but requires that you give up a spell slot to be able to convert the effect into a supernatural or spell-like ability, with various restrictions on the uses per day and level of the spell so sacrificed. It’s not a bad idea if there’s a particularly flashy spell that you use so regularly that you want to have it always be available, but for skill-boosting magic, it’s usually going to be better to use one of the previous methods mentioned, such as Inherent Spell (q.v.). While that might seem more expensive, it doesn’t require you to already have spellcasting abilities to give up (which are, ultimately, a much larger CP cost to buy).

As far as Innate Magic goes… I don’t use it in very many builds. I tend to favor versatility over being able to spam particular effects – and so do most of my players. I suppose that comes of trying to present a wide mix of problems. I do keep meaning to use it to build a shapeshifter or blaster or other specialist, but I keep thinking of cheaper ways to do it – which probably means that it’s overpriced for it’s actual intended use. On the other hand, a high-level spellcaster would probably find spending 6 CP to convert a ninth-level slot into Wish as a spell-like ability twice a day more than worthwhile, simply because spell-like abilities need no material or experience components. Even worse, they could take Mighty Greater Invocation two times to get an 11’th level slot to convert to 7 free Wishes per day (Hello inherent bonuses!) – for which it’s probably underpriced. For a corner case… even at lower levels it might be worth it for something like Stoneskin, or if you wanted to go crazy with Fire Trap spells or Forcecage. Unfortunately, Innate Magic is pretty close to being the only Eclipse ability that still gives me the feeling that “there MUST be a better way to do that!” even now.

I still can’t think of one though. If someone does, please leave a comment!

Jack-of-All-Trades: Being able to gain an across-the-board +1 (or +2, if you buy the greater version) untyped bonus to all skills linked to a particular attribute isn’t bad at all for a potential skill monkey character. But this ability’s real draw is the Universal modifier, which essentially makes it so that you can use any skill (so long as it’s on the campaign’s normal skill list) untrained. If you’re getting massive bonuses to all skill checks, or even a large category of them, from some combination of abilities, that’s a must-have.

Jack-of-All-Trades has been popular locally as “Well Read” (Jack-of-All-Trades Specialized in Knowledge Skills Only (3 CP), plus Universal, Specialized and Corrupted (Int based Skills, Knowledge Skills only, 2 CP) and throwing in a good Intelligence and some generic skill boosts – and so winding up with a +10 or so in all Knowledge Skills for a comparative handful of points that you were mostly going to spend on generic skill boosters anyway. Given that my games tend to be very information-heavy, that’s often well worthwhile in them. It does get disallowed in some of the more open-ended settings. For example, in the Federation-Apocalypse setting, which uses a potentially unlimited selection of define-your-own skills, you can’t simply be good with EVERYTHING.

On the other hand, if you are using the Variable Skill Costs system, the bonus would be modified by the skill costs as usual for skill-enhancing feats. That could make the user pretty good at pretty much all the rarely-used skills.

Journeyman: The ability to raise the level-cap to which you may buy a particular ability, even if only slightly, can potentially be a powerful ability. But in terms of raising the skill cap, there’s comparatively little reason to do so. Unless you’re trying to gain quicker access to something like the Epic Stunts modifier of Skill Focus (q.v.), there’s really no reason not to just buy other abilities that can grant bonuses, rather than raising the limit on how many ranks you can purchase.

Journeyman is pretty niche when it comes to skills. If there was one skill that you just HAD to push as far as possible you could get a Specialized and Corrupted version focusing on that particular skill for triple effect – but there are very few builds that are THAT dependent on a particular skill. The old Truenamer used to be – but Immunity provided a much better way to make Truenamers anyway. I suppose that it would work for a Rune Mage as well – but if you really want a specialist in Rune Magic taking something like the Ancient One template is probably a far better way to go about it.

In combination with the variable skill cost rules you could build extreme specialists at fairly low levels though – which is a plausible way to create master forgers or something should the characters ever need one

 

Eclipse and Skills – Drawbacks

Alzrius wrote an excellent – and very lengthy – article on Eclipse and Skills – which got an extremely lengthy response. Given how awkward that is to read, Alzrius has kindly given permission to republish his original article and the responses broken up into more manageable bits.So here’s part two…

Not all modifications to how a character uses their skills will necessarily be positive. Some of the disadvantages (pg. 18-20) are either skill-specific, or can be made to apply to skills and skill checks.

Remember, disadvantages that don’t cause any trouble for a character are not worth any CPs. While it’s natural for a character to try and work around their flaws, the point of that is that those flaws come up, in order to be worked around, in the first place. Taking penalties to your Swim skill is worthwhile in a temperate setting that has a coastline; it won’t earn you anything on a desert world.

I’ve never quite understood the urge to make characters who are essentially without “weaknesses” – including elements like family, background, odd quirks, phobias, goals, and enemies. While those things may restrict your choice of actions beyond “optimum efficiency” they’re a large part of what makes your character more interesting than a fancy chess-piece. Sure, you can play through a series of logic puzzles and tactical exercises, but I think that it misses much of the point of what  a role-playing game is all about.

Accursed: This is the “catch-all” disadvantage, and can be applied in a variety of creative ways. Consider taking it so that skill and ability checks automatically fail on a natural 1 (without automatically succeeding on a natural 20), possibly with the caveat that you can’t re-roll such a result (e.g. with Luck, q.v.).

Blocked: While the text for this disadvantage says that it’s typically used for things like a particular magical school or racial ability, you could take it so that you’re completely cut off from one particular skill, automatically failing checks made with it. This would be the disadvantage to take if your character couldn’t swim, for example.

Illiterate: This disadvantage has a special cost, separate from the pricing guidelines for other disadvantages. While this disadvantage technically should stop a character from purchasing any skills related to reading (e.g. Decipher Script, Forgery, etc.), it’s interesting to consider allowing a character to purchase ranks in those skills in anticipation of eventually buying off this disadvantage (and automatically failing all such checks until they do so). Such a character would essentially undergo an extreme, almost savant-like “awakening” to their new area of knowledge.

Illiterate doesn’t necessarily stop you from using Decipher Script and (especially) Forgery. it just restricts their applications. Forgery is basically the art of convincing, long-term, fakery. You can forge art, sell knock-off “masterwork” weapons, make fake gems, create intricate histories for your false identities, craft fake legends, and much more. You want to convince a guard that you’re the lost heir? That’s Bluff. You want to create a trail of clues that will convince the bank examiners that they’ve found the lost heir? You’ll want Forgery, even if you’ll probably want several other skills too.

Decipher Script is more limited for illiterates (unless you want to produce a fake translation of something you cannot actually read), but you can still “decipher” makers marks, petroglyphs, maps with weird symbols, and other signs that don’t actually have an associated language even if you’re illiterate. Admittedly that’s pretty niche – but it’s worth noting that there really aren’t any spells for sorting out that sort of thing until you get to things like Legend Lore and Hypercognition.

Incompetent: You take a -5 penalty to one skill in particular, or -3 to any group of skills that are related to a particular theme. This seems like a less-bad version of what you could get with Blocked (q.v.), which makes it awkward that they’re worth the same amount of CPs for taking them. The reason for this is that, unlike with Blocked (or Inept, q.v.), the GM selects which skill(s) this is applied to. Whereas a player is going to want to put their disadvantages where they feel their impact the least, a GM is far less likely to be so inclined (and will usually do just the opposite).

Inept: You take a -2 penalty to all skills that are keyed to a particular ability score modifier. Notice that neither Strength nor Constitution are available as modifiers for this disadvantage, nicely avoiding what would otherwise be an easy way around this particular disadvantage. While it doesn’t explicitly say so, I’d recommend applying this to ability checks that use the linked ability score as well.

Unlike many other skill-related disadvantages, Inept has the potential of hitting a character where it hurts later on in their career. Thanks to all of the potential new skills that can be accessed via Eclipse, it’s entirely possible for this to apply to something like Martial Arts (q.v.) or Rune Magic (q.v.) that end up being based on the linked ability score.

Part of the fun of Inept is that even if you – for example – negate much of the basic mechanical impact by staying away from (say) Dex-based skills it’s still helping shape your character – and why shouldn’t you get a few extra points for embracing the role of being “the strong clumsy one” or some such?

Outcast: While this doesn’t refer to skills directly, I’d recommend that this cause massive penalties on social skill rolls with members of the affected group. Possibly even automatic failure on such checks. Exceptions might exist with regards to who doesn’t shun/hate/fear you, but these will be designated by the GM.

Even if you don’t automatically fail… if you really take a look at it, you’ll find that the effects of Diplomacy seem to be a lot more limited than they are usually made out to be.

Poor Reputation: While this looks similar to Outcast (q.v.), there are several important differences that need to be noted. The first is that this one has a static, defined penalty, which means that you can overcome it if you raise your bonuses high enough on your social skills. That’s to be expected; if you work long enough, hard enough to counter your poor reputation, you’ll probably succeed eventually.

Also, keep in mind that being an Outcast is likely due to you being subject to some sort of institutional prejudice, whereas having a Poor Reputation is typically due to something that you’ve (purportedly) done. As such, this disadvantage will likely follow you around; if you want to get someplace where your reputation hasn’t reached yet, you’ll likely need to work hard – after all, if you can get there, so can other people who’ve heard about you.

And of course, this disadvantage calls out that your associates will also take a penalty for associating with you. A canny GM won’t forget to bring that up.

To be quite fair… almost any adventurer can qualify for this one without even trying. Wreck that tavern in a brawl, set a few fires stopping intruding monsters, bring a poorly-controlled animal companion into town, kill a few locals… It only takes one or two mistakes to get a poor reputation well under way.

Showman: While the initiative penalty is the most immediate concern, remember that this grants anyone looking into your current activities a +3 bonus. That might not seem very high, but it’s essentially a reminder that you can’t help draw attention to yourself. You’re the person that other people’s – including your enemies’ – Gather Information checks will be about.

Uncivilized: While this disadvantage’s description notes that you’re essentially from a tribe that hasn’t developed complex cultural, social, economic, or other institutions, this is really more of a “fish out of water” disadvantage. The key to remember is that this isn’t just about things being different, but rather that other societies are operating along principles that your own hasn’t discovered yet. This means that if your civilization hasn’t discovered magic, or only has a primitive type of magic, you’ll take penalties to skill checks to use magic such as Theurgy (q.v.) or Thaumaturgy/Dweomer (q.v.).

Unluck: Despite what the text says here, I doubt that it’s intended to make you automatically fail skill or ability checks on a natural 2, since you don’t fail those on a natural 1. If you want that to apply, consider taking the Accursed (q.v.) disadvantage as well.

Originally it was, simply because I was used to playing under rules where a natural one already automatically failed skill checks… At this point I must admit that I don’t remember whether that was a holdover from 3.0 or earlier, a house rule that I’d forgotten was a house rule, or just a mistake – but since none of those need apply any longer, so going with natural ones only is entirely reasonable.

Untrustworthy: Similar to other “social penalty” disadvantages, this is likely to hit you hard on skill checks within its scope. The difference between this and other such disadvantages is that your penalties apply only to issues of trustworthiness. You might automatically fail Bluff checks, or example, but you’ll have no problem paying for healing at the local church.

Vows: It’s interesting to note that this disadvantage openly admits that it can work in your favor, with a +3 bonus (or -3 where appropriate) versus something that would make you break your vows. This doesn’t negate the restrictive nature of your Vows, nor the penalty you’ll take for breaking them, but it’s still worth leveraging where you can. For example, if you’ve taken a Vow of silence, you’ll probably be taking penalties to most social interaction skill checks, but you’ll gain a +3 bonus on saving throws against spells or other abilities that would compel you to speak.

Vows are in there – and can provide a bonus – because oaths, vows, and commitments really ought to mean something. Many people have taken them extremely seriously in reality, and have made great efforts and sacrifices to live up to them. In myths, fairy tales, and fantasy literature they have all kinds of powers – which makes the fact that the default d20 rules give them no impact at all more than a bit annoying. The oaths of a sworn guardian who’s stood by his word and served proudly for the last twenty years apparently mean nothing at all. Thus Eclipse has Vows, the Rituals systems include Oathbindings, Runecards has Quest Oaths, Eclipse II has Grimfang the Heroes Blade, and so on.

Eclipse and Skills – Introduction

Alzrius wrote an excellent – and very lengthy – article on Eclipse and Skills – which got a similarly lengthy response. Given how awkward that is to read, Alzrius has kindly given permission to republish his original article broken up into more manageable bits so that the original – and further – responses can be read with the sections they’re related to.

I’ve said many times before how much I enjoy Eclipse: The Codex Persona (along with its “sister” books The Practical Enchanter, Paths of Power, and Legends of High Fantasy). To my mind, it’s nothing less than the culmination of the “options, not restrictions” credo that was the hallmark of the d20 System. Even other point-buy character generation systems can’t match the flexibility and creativity that Eclipse allows for.

Nowhere is this more evident, to my mind, than with how it reinvigorates the use of skills for d20 characters. For class-based characters, skills tend to be little more than an afterthought; something to be noted only for what little combat-related mechanics they have, directly or indirectly. Most often, they’re used only for detecting ambushes (and, more rarely, clues) via sensory skills, getting hints about monster abilities via knowledge skills, and making useful items via crafting skills (oh, and bards using performance skills for a few of their powers).

Everything else is extremely vestigial, to the point where they’re taken for little more than personal flavor reasons. That’s not inherently bad, of course; “personal flavor” is another term for “role-playing,” after all. But it’s a shame that they can’t also be more useful at the same time. When you only have so many skills points, you shouldn’t need to choose between putting them in skills that are flavorful, and those that are actually useful.

Normally I’d make some example characters to show off a particular application of Eclipse, but in this case I’m going to take a page out of KrackoThunder’s book and overview various abilities directly. What follows isn’t meant to be comprehensive, if only because Eclipse allows for its abilities to be altered, modified, and changed in myriad ways to suit a player’s needs for their character(s). A given ability might require more Character Points than you have at your current level, but in all likelihood it’s not going to be impossible to make.

Part 0: The Skill System

Eclipse is focused on decoupling various class-level groupings of abilities, but there’s absolutely no reason why this can’t be done for the skill system itself in an Eclipse-based game. While there’s no reason why you can’t just make use of an existing skill system from 3.5, Pathfinder, or any other d20 System, it’s worth examining what other options are available so as to better tailor the kind of game you want to run.

This is an area that’s distinct from a particular character’s progression. While various abilities give characters the ability to interact with a given skill system in a different way, the way that skills (normally) work is distinct unto itself. Consider the following:

What skills are available? First and foremost, consider what skills are actually available for characters to take. There’s quite a few available, ranging from 3.0 to 3.5 to Pathfinder to d20 Modern to Thoth’s condensed skill list. Even the D&D Fifth Edition skill list could be used! Note that you can put things that would normally be Occult Skills (q.v.) on the standard skill list if they’re fairly common in a particular campaign. If magic items and magic shops are everywhere, to the point of being everyday facts of life, then it might make sense for Craft (precepts) to be a normal skill on the campaign’s skill list.

Occult Skills are – quite literally – “Hidden”. They don’t appear on the list of normally-available skills for a given setting. That could be because they’re obscure and require exotic talents or very special training or it could be because they rely on campaign-specific resources or world laws. The difference is quite important since – while a character could use Occult Skill to take any skill, some of them will not work without those special resources. Thus…

  • Glowstone Alchemy (and it’s Item List) is pretty useless if no Glowstone is available.
  • Foresight, however, simply says that “My character is crazy prepared and far smarter than I am!”. It will work almost anywhere if the game master is willing to put up with it.
  • Reality-altering Battling Business World Accounting draws it’s power from the Number Lords. In settings lacking Number Lords (or some GM-approved substitute therefor) it either won’t work at all or will be drastically reduced in power.
  • The Action Skills of the Shadowed Galaxy presume that Narrative Causality – the tendency for classical tropes and bits of stories to leak into the game – is actually a part of the setting (and thus exploitable without metalogic), rather than just an artifact of having a human game master or programmer setting up a plot or storyline. If that’s not true (or at least allowable for the amusement value) … then they won’t work.
  • The Equipment Skills of the Shadowed Galaxy pretty much replace money, wealth-by-level, and equipment costs – a fairly major hack of the basic d20 system.

So if the game is set in the neolithic period, both Computer Programming and Medieval Siege Engineering will be Occult Skills and can be taken as such – but the lack of computers will render Computer Programming pretty useless if you do. Catapults, sturdy stone walls, and similar things will be within reach though, even if no one else understands a thing about your amazing magical arts of defense and assault.

What to do about class/cross-class skills? Even if you go with a standard skill list, the question of “class” and “cross-class” skills are impossible to ignore when using a classless character generator. Eclipse addresses this (p. 9) with two recommendations: 1) that every character start off with 12-18 “relevant” (e.g. class) skills based on their character’s theme (but notes that skill-based characters “often” have more), and 2) that spending 6 CP to buy ranks in an “irrelevant” (e.g. cross-class) skill makes it into a class skill.

Even here, there are some judgment calls that need to be made. For one thing, when deciding how many relevant skills a character will have, you’ll need to address skills that have sub-skills. For example, can a character have Knowledge as a relevant skill, or are Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (dungeoneering), Knowledge (engineering), etc. each a separate skill, some of which might be relevant for them while others aren’t?

In skill-heavy settings I usually rule that any skill you make cheaper to buy with the “Adept” ability automatically counts as a bonus “class skill”. After all… you’ve pretty obviously chosen it to be “relevant”. Given that everyone in a skill dependent setting will almost certainly be taking Adept anyway, this has much the same effect as just allowing more relevant skills, but still leaves the choice up to the player.

What other specifics does the skill system use? Will it allow for maximum ranks equal to character level across the board, or will it allow for (level +3) for relevant skills and (level +3)/2 for irrelevant skills? Will 1 CP purchase 1 rank for all skills, or will it purchase 1 rank for relevant skills and 1/2 rank for irrelevant skills? Do characters gain quadruple (or even some other) number of skill points on things that grant bonus skill points at 1st level? Do certain skills grant skill synergies when you have enough ranks? Do ranks in all skills cost an equal number of CPs to purchase, or are some skills more expensive than others?

What Eclipse tweaks will you use, if any? Finally, consider some of the other options listed on pages 9-10 of Eclipse. Will you include skill specialties (note that this is different from “specialization”), where 1 skill point is worth a +3 bonus on a particular application of a skill (e.g. a +3 bonus to making swords with Craft (weapons))? What about specific knowledges, where somewhere from 1 to 3 skill points (depending on the knowledge in question) is worth a +15 bonus regarding an extremely specific subject (e.g. a single type of monster, such as the dryad, rather than all fey)? Or “unfamiliarity” penalties to untrained skills, which can be bought off for several skills with 1 skill point? These (and the few others listed there) can all help to offer interesting tweaks to how skills work in your campaign.

Remember that, with Eclipse, a skill’s “total bonus/score” is a measure of not just the bonus derived from ranks, but from ALL non-magical permanent modifiers. So your ability score modifier, bonuses from abilities like Professional (q.v.) or Skill Emphasis (q.v.), Pathfinder’s +3 to relevant skills that you have ranks in, etc. all count towards that.

Eclipsing the Shows – World versus Marketing and My Little Pony

For today it’s some general discussion on setting games in media universes – and then a few specific answers to the question that brought it up. To start with the general theory…

There’s a subtle roadblock in the way of converting shows – whether we’re talking about Star Trek, Survivor, or My Little Pony (which this question was originally about) – into role-playing game settings. It’s simple enough that it’s often missed.

The shows are driven by marketing toys and advertising and details don’t matter, while in RPG settings the details matter a lot – and so they generally strive for internal consistency.

Why is that? Well, consider this situation.

The characters are pursuing a deadly assassin. An hour ago he slipped aboard a train that (the last few times the characters rode it) took ten hours to reach the city where the assassin’s targets live. The party frantically finds the evidence they need to identify him and readies a rocket plane that can make the trip in an hour. By dint of many heroic efforts, the party launches after seven hours. They will beat the assassin there by two hours and can get ready to capture him and/or defend the targets!

And then the game master informs the players that the train trip only took two hours. That might be because he forgot, or because his plot demands that the assassin take out at least some of his or her targets, or “because the train accidentally skipped several hundred miles of the trip thanks to quantum fluctuations”. The targets were all dead hours before the characters got their plane launched, and by the time the characters arrived the assassin had made good his escape.

Does that really sound like fun?

On a show it doesn’t matter if the setting is inconsistent because the writers are in control and things only matter when they want them to. That train travels at the speed of plot and will arrive just when it needs to to make the story work.

In a game where the players make most of the decisions consistency matters a great deal. Even games like Toon are internally consistent; the rules of cartoons may be a bit silly, but they are still rules. Otherwise… players rarely want to invest much time in a setting that they can’t make sense out of.

This can get quite awkward when you find yourself trying to come up with an in-setting reason for elements of the show that were driven by external factors. Since it was what the original question was about, I’ll take my examples from My Little Pony.

Looking at that show from an objective external point of view… major characters generally have:

  • Distinctive Features. They’ve all got easily recognized color schemes and clearly symbolic cutie marks. They inhabit a familiar-looking world full of easily recognizable stand-alone items that can be readily reproduced in bright plastic. A pony family can include almost any subtype of pony, since you want your collectable sets to include as many varieties of plastic models as can be managed. After all, toy sales are a big thing for the My Little Pony franchise.

Fortunately, this one is relatively easily “explained”. We can make noises about recessive genes, about how – in a world of special talents – quick identification of the right pony to handle a threat mattered a lot more than camouflage, about the effects of personal magic on appearance and how every pony has their own specific “frequency” and color, and how cutie marks are expressions of pure personal magic (although this fails to explain why so many of them are of human symbols that shouldn’t mean anything to ponies… Trixies wand? Unicorns use horns! A Judge with a gavel? Shouldn’t that be a hoofstomp? A garden sprayer with a looped pump handle (for hands) and a sprayer wand with a thumb-switch (made for hands and thumbs)? Wouldn’t a foot-pump and a pressure-operated jaw handle make a lot more sense? A gumball machine with a twist knob instead of a button? Scissors with finger-loops?

We can probably get away with not explaining the cutie marks and the horrible ergonomics of various pony tools though. Hardly anyone pays much attention to the “why” of various symbols and tools. Similarly, unless someone is REALLY big on creating artwork for the game details like “color intensity” will never come up – and even if someone is an artist, details can just be dismissed as “artistic license” by anyone who worries about them.

  • Strong – and Straightforward – Personalities. Allied characters like Big Macintosh and Shining Armor (somewhat idealized older brothers) have good and noble traits. Opponents, such as Sombra, Chrysalis, Discord, Starlight Glimmer, Trixie, and Sunset Shimmer, have ignoble traits and/or redeemable flaws (usually the opposite of the elements) – or are just big monsters, like Tirek or the Hydra. Minor characters, like the Flower Trio, tend to be defined by one or two basic reactive traits – in ponies, most often a tendency to overreact, panic, and either faint or run away (thus forcing the focus characters to fix things on their own).

This is the mental equivalent of the bright colors and distinctive features; the show doesn’t have a lot of time when it introduces characters to start with and it is primarily targeting youngsters. Ergo no complex motivations, unsolvable moral dilemmas, or really gray characters. Instead you get relatively simple, immediately apparent, and easy to distinguish motives and personality traits.

This tends to affect any production that has a limited amount of time to introduce characters in, but a twenty-two minute cartoon format tends to exaggerate things. It often passes without notice in actual play of course. After all, GM’s are rarely expert actors and also usually lack game time in which to introduce and extensively develop NPC’s since the focus is always on the PC’s – so most of the world is painted with very broad strokes indeed and the players are left to fill in the details. Still, we actually do have something more to work with in Equestria – where a set of six personality traits have been promoted to the status of cosmic forces. We actually have a good reason why a very limited, broadly defined, and easily portrayed set of personality traits will underlie all sorts of things – including a blatant link to special powers. Lets not waste it.

  • Special Powers. As befits a world full of minor superpowers, all adult major characters are going to have at least minor special abilities (if only so that they can get into trouble that the rest of the cast can’t just wave a hoof and fix). Kids usually get an incredible ability to get out of potentially lethal situations essentially unscathed, the ability to pop up out of nowhere whenever a plot complication or target for some exposition is needed, and the ability to create incredible messes or assemble massive projects the moment they get offscreen – although these will not usually be counted as “powers” since they exist to complicate the focus characters lives. The same goes for “Magic Surges” in infants; they need SOME way to make trouble beyond dirty diapers or they won’t be of much interest. In any case, good guy allies mostly just get powers because they are good guys – but opponents will usually either be tapping into “dark magic” (what I labeled the Discordant Powers), by stealing power like Tirek, or will have achieved their power through self-development over lengthy periods (neatly establishing that they really worked at being evil without actually having to show very much actual evil).

In RPG’s special powers are a large part of what makes the player characters interesting, so we need not account for their presence in a setting; the game system should handle that detail – but an in-universe justification for how they work and why some characters are more powerful than others is always welcome.

In this case we can simply reverse causation. Marketing gives special powers to major, recurring, characters to help keep them interesting and make their problems dramatic. We can just turn that around, stating that individual NPC’s become major, recurring, characters because they have special powers and dramatic problems.

  • Relationships. A lot of the allies – and likely some of the opponents – will either be a part of a focus characters family or at least strongly connected thereto. This makes it simple to introduce new characters, is a shorthand route to establishing connections with the focus characters, and provides a way to add some easily related to gratuitous complications (and opponents whom they won’t want to actually hurt) to the focus characters lives.

Here we’re fortunate; RPG’s usually have more time available to introduce characters – and all we really need to explain most of the existing relationships between high-powered types from the source material is to make some noises about “powerful bloodlines” or “secret rituals”, or some such. In Equestria, thanks to the Elements of Harmony, we can throw in family traits and traditions as well. Who is to say that Granny Smith’s weird rituals for growing Zap Apples don’t have effects beyond (or instead of?) growing the things? Maybe she’s actually six hundred years old and the Apple families enormous size, unity, and apparent general prosperity is the result of centuries of patient, matriarchal, earth pony rituals and witchery. Who knows?

Hm… now there’s another interesting character concept that I may or may not ever find the time to write up. I’ll see if it’s still sticking with me in the next week or so.

  • Unreasonably Tight Focus: The writers don’t want risk the viewers losing track of the characters – and want to focus on the best-developed and best-known characters because that’s what much of the audience wants to see. Ergo you get ineffectual guards, politicians and nobles who are either useless or obstructive, bystanders who never do anything but panic, get in the way, and need to be rescued, powerful elder mentors who do nothing but provide obscure advice and get readily defeated to establish various threats as genuine, and many similar tropes. You wind up with a small cast of very effective characters, a few specialized allies with potent abilities in very limited fields so they can be called in without overshadowing the focus characters, a bunch of near-helpless responsibilities, and some opposition – which can be slice-of-life and pretty much ineffectual as long as it really annoys people. That’s why Diamond Tiara and Prince Blueblood – an obnoxious child and a narcissistic snob – often outrank King Sombra (the local version of Sauron) and Starlight Glimmer (a grossly overpowered “dark wizard”) on fan villain lists.

Fortunately for our purposes, this one often gets by without explanation because RPG’s tend to assume an unreasonably tight focus on a set of player characters anyway – and if you really need an explanation, you can always fall back on various versions of “you’re just on the high end of the bell curve”, “destiny”, “the chosen ones”, mentor manipulation, or even “you just happened to be the ones in the area who fit the role enough to use the plot coupons”.

  • No Controversies. Shows shy away from anything that might hurt sales – especially in a series, where repeat viewers are are all-important to ratings (and thus advertising revenue) and merchandising. You aren’t, for example, going to find out much of anything about the characters sex lives, or see an episode about severe child abuse, or a school shooting, on a children’s show.

Finally, this one you really don’t have to bother with. A lack of data just means that you can fill in anything that fits the setting reasonably well in your head – and if a group doesn’t want to discuss something you just don’t spend any time on it. You can run a game set in the roman empire without going into detail on just what hideous fates Caligula is inflicting on his enemies families, or how decadent the parties get, or – for that matter – the mechanics underlying flooding the coliseum (and yes, they did that) for a “naval” event.

The writers don’t really bother with in-universe rationales for these decisions of course. Why should they? They’re focused on writing salable material and setting up for future episodes. A bit of world-building may come into that, but it’s generally not going to be the primary objective. Still, while “toy sales”, “targeting kids”, “because they’d bore the audience otherwise”, a double dose of “it makes it easy for the writers”, and “we’d lose money!” may be the actual truth, those reasons really won’t work as an “in the setting” explanation.

Ergo role playing gamers who want a consistent setting must resort to speculative theories – such as the theory from the prior article which prompted this – that, in the My Little Pony universe, strong virtues (and anti-virtues) provide characters with extra power. Of course, none of those theories will ever be explicitly stated, or even firmly supported, by the show that they’re about since they’re trying to map external marketing decisions to internal theories about the setting – but you can often come up with something that will match closely enough to pass.

Now as for the questions about this article that brought this up…

I’m not sure that I agree with regards to Cheese Sandwich. It’s true that he only got his “Cheesy Sense” after he started to emulate Pinkie, but there appears to be a key difference there: Pinkie’s “Pinkie Sense” (and, for that matter, Maud’s “Maud Sense”) is unrelated to her special talent, unlike with Cheese Sandwich.

As a party pony, Pinkie shouldn’t have any particular ability to sense incoming danger (nor Maud, with her fixation on rocks, be able to find things that have gone missing). That’s why Twilight is obsessed with explaining Pinkie’s ability in Feeling Pinkie Keen. (To my eyes, it looks like having a psionic wild talent runs in the Pie family.)

Cheese Sandwich, by contrast, is a party pony himself (even if his cutie mark is a little odd), and his Cheesy Sense lets him sense the direction of imminent parties. That seems like it’s just a (admittedly rather strong) aspect of his special talent. It may also be precognitive the way Pinkie’s Pinkie Sense is, but it’s precognitive in a way that fits with the magic of his cutie mark, and so seems like a different thing that just happens to resemble what Pinkie can do (the same way a lot of psionic powers have magical equivalents).

Also, this article references changelings as possibly being between dragons and ponies, but I have to wonder how Discord’s being a “draconequus” fits in there, even if he does seem like he’s a living inversion of Harmony (perhaps the Discordant Powers should be called the “Elements of Disharmony”?).

-Alzrius

Well, the point there was simply that Cheese Sandwich has abilities well beyond those of a normal earth pony – and apparently acquired many of those talents after working hard to become a paragon of laughter. After all, even if you discount most of the stuff from his musical numbers (wherein he warps reality with even less restraint than Discord does – well beyond the far more common “montage scenes” you get with most equestrian musical numbers), he still produced various things (including a giant cheese wheel, a seal (although it might just be Fluttershys), a hippo, a parade float, and a huge party tank) during the actual party, animated a rubber chicken, and more. It’s not that association with an element necessarily boosts your primary talents (thus the bit about Rarity’s rather exceptional strength). It just seems to let you do more things.

As for “Cheesy Sense”… I really don’t know what it does. Cheese Sandwich stated that his Cheesy Sense told him that his next party would be in Ponyville and told him about Pinkie’s Pinkie Sense – but two one-sentence examples aren’t much to go on.

Maud is another victim of insufficient data. Perhaps she can find rocks, metals, and things in contact with the earth? Or do the equivalent of “Locate Object?”. She also shows enough (reactionless!) strength to toss large rocks over the horizon and kick up mushroom clouds much bigger than hills.

But we didn’t see any of the royal guard tossing changelings over the horizon.

Of course, Maud is… extremely loyal to her friend and relatives, tactless and blunt (the socially awkward form of honesty) and is pretty generous with her time and effort. She’s not especially exemplary when it comes to kindness and laughter, and she’s not really a paragon of any single virtue – but under this (speculative) theory she’d be getting a reasonably balanced boost.

Is there anyone else around who fits that theory?

How about Big Macintosh? He shows pretty much that same package of traits (an “idealized big brother” set) – and he can effortlessly bounce along while towing a house by flexing his ankles.

We see one more pony (a filly with a hedgehog cutie mark) with freakishly supernormal strength (as explicitly called out by Diamond Tiara on the playground) – but I can’t recall any other information about her at all. Just going by the hedgehog… perhaps another prickly introvert like Maud Pie?

And strength is a basic earth pony talent.

Then we have Shining Armor – a loyal captain of the guard who is willing to generously expend every bit of his strength on shielding others, is probably pretty honest (if only because trying to deceive Celestia is probably an even worse idea than trying to deceive the usual superior officer). He probably isn’t all that strong on kindness and laughter though. After all, you can’t afford to be unconditionally kind as a guard – and guard work is often pretty serious.

And he has an absurdly hyped up ability to generate shields that can protect entire cities. True, that’s his particular special talent, but we don’t see that unicorn with a talent for puppetry sending a swarm of giant puppets out to build roads or battle monsters.

Now in reality those talents are the result of marketing and scriptwriter decisions – which means that any in-setting theory is going to be a bit contrived in places – but it fits in well enough since it relates to several of the writers motives. (I must admit that “wild talents” also work perfectly well – especially in d20 systems – but I have a personal fondness for elaborate, generalized, theories with extensive implications. They’re such fun to come up with).

As for Discord… well, he seems to be the principle focus of chaos – or change – magic, and was the major reason for labeling the inverse elements the DISCORD-ant powers. In terms of that theory… he shows a fair chunk of the draconic powers – and the Lord of Chaos template I set up earlier is a +2 ECL template and so falls within the limits of a dragon channeling the “Discordant Powers” if he either purchased an upgrade similar to the epic level upgrade for a Bokor or found a way to dump a level of growth in favor of more power. Discord does look even stranger than the adolescent dragons do – but his basic body layout is the same and the changes are probably within the limits of draconic shapeshifting.

Who knows? Maybe Celestia hatched her own dragon as a youngster, tried to meddle with the draconic ability to channel the Discordant Powers, and wound up with Discord. After all… she kept him around and seems inclined to argue with him rather than starting in blasting – and later took the risk of him running amuck again (and possibly hiding the elements effectively first) in hopes of reforming him. That’s not exactly what I’d expect from a reasonably wise ruler who is abruptly confronting a newly-returned satanic figure. It’s a great deal closer to the parable of the prodigal son…

Now that doesn’t fit in with the “he’s Starswirl the Bearded after a badly-bungled attempt at Alicorn Ascension” theory from his writeup – but it’s not like it needs to; both theories are pure speculation. Still, speculation is what the Changeling and Dragon articles were all about.

Ponies of the Eclipse – Dragon Speculations

And today it’s another offline question… “What would Spike (from “Friendship is Magic”, not Buffy the Vampire Slayer) look like in Eclipse?

Well, the trouble with creating a racial template for Equestarian Dragons is that it’s going to be pretty speculative. Yes, we see a fair amount of Spike (although his activities are often rather repetitive since he’s mostly a foil for Twilight and personal mail system) – but we also know that he isn’t entirely typical and other draconic appearances are few and far between. To fill things out a bit, I’m going to see what I can deduce from how Ponies interact with Equestria’s Dragons.

Ponies are the masters of Equestria. They control the sun and moon, the weather, the seasons, and more. They are powerful practitioners of Harmony and Love – the two greatest forces in their universe. Tireks scholarly mentor even outright states that ponies (and Unicorns in particular) have the most powerful magic in the universe. His viewpoint is likely biased, but there’s probably something to it.

Ponies seem to become even more powerful as they attune themselves more closely to the various virtues of the Elements of Harmony. Does it really seem likely to be a coincidence that…

  • Rainbow Dash, a paragon of loyalty, is the fastest (and possibly the toughest, at least judging by the “Rainbomb”) pegasus in all Equestria. What’s more, her abilities can’t be blamed on direct contact with the physical Element of Loyalty without timey-wimey shenanigans since she showed some of them many years before the Elements were reactivated.
  • Applejack, a paragon of honesty, stops stampedes, faces down monsters, and does quite incredible amounts of work. After all, the farm went down the drain in days without her despite everything that Big Mac, Apple Bloom, and Granny Smith could do.
  • Rarity, a paragon of generosity, can carry and toss around multi-ton boulders, outperform a small factory, use far more magical effects than a normal unicorn (including remotely teleporting large objects), is a skilled fighter, and can easily manipulate small swarms of enemies into giving her their treasure.
  • Fluttershy, a paragon of kindness, can stare down cockatrices, communicate with animals and make them all live together peacefully, wrestle bears, model, sing, conduct music, sew, and even reform gods of chaos.
  • Twilight, the “Princess of Friendship”, may be the most powerful mage in Equestria – and certainly demonstrates the desire and ability to make the universe conform to her will that is the essence of magic.
  • And then there’s Pinkie Pie, who can do almost anything.
  • For that matter there’s Cheese Sandwich, who clearly demonstrates that other ponies can tap into such powers without being element-bearers.

Yet we also know that such power is a rare and special thing. How do we know that? Because Equestria has problems AND keeps coming back to the mane six to solve them instead of just letting the general population handle them. Ergo… while ponies are empowered by the forces the Elements of Harmony represent it’s rare for one of them to be enough of a paragon of virtue to get a LOT of power.

And yet… dragons worry even the paragons. In a universe that primarily runs on the harmony of loyalty, honesty, generosity, kindness, laughter, and magic, and secondarily on love, dragons defy those powers. They may appear in small packs as adolescents, but the adults mostly seem to be solitary apex predators. They have a “king”, but their traditional method of choosing one seems to be based on skill in evading traps, competing with each other, raw power, and luck. On their own dragons show distinct tendencies towards…

  • Treachery. Rejecting a kid the moment he disagrees about pointlessly killing something? Spike expects to be betrayed by his “mother” and get replaced by an owl?
  • Deception. The adolescent dragons act accepting and then try to rig their contests? Spike getting their pets and the Cutie Mark Crusaders to deceive the Mane Six?
  • Greed. Spike growing into a monstrous dragon out of greed? Dragonhoards in general?
  • Cruelty. Wanting to smash phoenix eggs? Spike labeling his friends “Hairity, Rainbow Crash, Spitty Pie, Apple Teeny, Flutterguy, and Twilight Flopple” when they’re poisoned and panicked?
  • Wrath. Trying to hurt or kill a toddler for snagging some of your snacks? Inspiring fear the way that they do?
  • Chance: Leaving your kids to roam around unsupervised? Using an obstacle course to decide the potential fate of your entire species?

Dragons still seem to be affected by Love, but it, at most, tempers their behavior. Adult dragons obviously aren’t normally filled with love or keeping a dragon egg in a school and using it to test students would have been pretty horribly offensive wouldn’t it?

When Spike, who was raised by Ponies in isolation from other dragons, gives in to Greed he grows immensely in size and power – but he is restored to normal by the power of his affection for Rarity (incidentally demonstrating that the emotion is both genuine and serious).

So the primary behavioral traits – and apparently power sources – of Dragons are the Inverse Elements. Treachery, Deception, Greed, Cruelty, Wrath, and Chance (the inverse of magic – twisting the odds perhaps, but accepting the way of the universe instead of demanding that it do what you want). I’m going to call these traits the “Discordant Powers”.

Harmony may permeate the world – but that simply means that the outbreaks of the Discordant Powers are tightly focused, and very powerful locally – as shown by Discord himself. There are hundreds of times as many ponies as dragons and their overall power is far greater than the dragons – but that’s not a lot of comfort when it’s only a few dozen ponies against a Dragon who is channeling a lot more of one of the Discordant Powers than the ponies are channeling Harmony.

That… gives us a draconic power source, a reason for Ponies to be very wary of dragons, and a set of motivations all in one. It tells us why Dragons are so individually powerful but yet ponies dominate the world.

It may also imply a relationship between Dragons and Discord and between Dragons and Changelings, but there isn’t much support for that so far.

So what do we need to buy to build an Equestrian Dragon racial template?

Dragons:

Are Extremely Tough. They can leap from a height into magma without being hurt, chew, swallow, and digest sharp fragments of diamond, are highly resistant to energy (especially fire, even if you can get them sooty), and can take one of Rainbow Dash’s full kicks – shown to be capable of smashing through four sizeable trees – without injury.

  • Damage Reduction 5/-, Specialized and Corrupted for Triple Effect; Only versus Physical Attacks, not versus Adamantine (12 CP).
  • Berserker with Odinpower and Enduring, Powered by Mana, +15/- Universal Damage Reduction (also protects against energy) (12 CP). That’s fairly expensive – but will allow a powered-up Equestrian Dragon to shed most weapons like drops of rain.
  • Energy Infusion (Fire, 6 CP). Given that ice cream can upset Spikes stomach when rocks can’t… a vulnerability to excessive amounts of Cold doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Eating gems really isn’t especially advantageous, even in Equestria where they’re absurdly common and inexpensive. After all… a modest gem does seem to have enough value to trade it for a substantially larger sandwich even there – and given that Spike sometimes gorges on them, their effective caloric value can’t be THAT high. Elsewhere… it’s just absurd. Eat that gem worth several hundred gold pieces – or use it to get a hundred gallons of ice cream and other goodies? Dragons seem to like those too… Ergo, no cost.

Are Limited Shapeshifters. They can change size and the details of their appearance – although this does not seem to be entirely under their control. In addition, they are naturally armed and armored. They can also dig well (although they don’t seem to have a burrow speed like Diamond Dogs) and seem to have little use for material possessions (or shovels).

  • Accursed. A dragon’s appearance reflects it’s personality, state of development, and (at least to a limited extent) current mood. This makes them extremely distinctive, hard to fit for equipment, easy to “read” (other creatures get a +5 bonus on Sense Motive against dragons), and makes it easy for other creatures to pretend to be dragons with flimsy disguises. After all, a dragon could easily look like that… (-3 CP).
  • Immunity/having to actually have mundane equipment to get it’s bonuses (mundane equipment is Very Common and not having it is a Minor problem for an adventurer. The Trivial level covers basic tools and clothing, Minor covers light and medium armor and simple weapons, Major covers heavy armor, masterwork stuff and martial weapons, and Great covers exotic weapons, materials, and alchemical gear. That’s 4, 8. 12. Or 24 CP. Dragons normally start at (12 CP).

Once again, I could speculate on a connection with Changelings here. After all… a dragon-pony hybrid might well not have a strong connection to either the Elements of Harmony OR the Discordant Powers. If so, it would be an incomplete creature, lacking a natural source of magic, drives, and emotions – and perhaps needing to take those things from others. A bit of a dragon’s natural toughness for an effectively armored insect-like hide, some fangs, spitting mere sticky goo instead of magically charging the stuff to act more like napalm, the draconic shapeshifting… I could even argue that the holes are due to their shapeshifting reflecting their inherent incompleteness. That may not be what this article is about – but I am being speculative here.

Seem to have a good Constitution, but show no other exceptional attributes save strength – which may just be due to size bonuses – and aren’t especially sociable.

  • Attribute Shift: +2 Con, -2 Cha (6 CP).

Are implied to be very long-lived and easily capable of surviving in the wastelands. Spike – despite being at least ten years old – is considered a baby dragon.

  • Immunity to Aging (Uncommon, Major, Major, 6 CP). Dragons can expect to live for thousands of years.

Are apparently magic-resistant when they want to be – or at least the various unicorns around Ponyville don’t seem to have much luck in dealing with Spike when he’s gotten bigger.

  • Spell/Power Resistance II (12 CP).

Are Firebreathers. They can breathe enormous amounts of fire and/or smoke, possess considerable control over that ability – enough to either melt masses of snow or ice or to make toast – and can use it for at least some magical purposes.

Can, at least as adults, sprout wings and fly at considerable speeds and with fair maneuverability

  • Instinctive Dragon Magic: Innate Enchantment (total value 6320 GP, net cost of 7 CP).
    • Enhance Attribute: Str +2 (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
    • Enhance Attribute: Con +2 (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
    • Feathermail (a touch-range Transmutation effect targeting armor, +3 to maximum Dex, -3 to Armor Check Penalty, reduce movement penalty by 10 for 2 rounds/level, Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x .7 (Personal-Only) x.8 (“Armor” from Immunity Only) = 1120 GP. Dragons can generally move easily despite their scales.
    • Montage Scene/Power Tool: Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x .5 (Only on their internal “tools”) = 1000 GP. Dragons can get a lot more done than would normally be credited – digging like a backhoe, jack hammering through stone, and so on. In general, dragons gets a lot more done than any normal human.
    • Immortal Vigor I (The Practical Enchanter): Provides +(12 + 2 x Con Mod) Hit Points. (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .7 Personal Only = 1400 GP).
  • Immunity/stacking limitations when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (common/minor/trivial; only covers level 0 or 1 effects) (2 CP).
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of racial innate enchantments (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP). Dragons are born with their innate enchantments, and need not pay any extra experience for them.
  • Immunity to Dispelling effects (Common/Minor/Great, Specialized and Corrupted / only to protect Racial Innate Enchantments, 4 CP).

This stuff just comes with being a dragon.

Learned Dragon Magic: Inherent Spells, all powered by Mana. Unfortunately, all of these require extensive training to use. Dragons must either spend years wandering and working on self-development, seek out “appropriate” tutors and get them to teach them, or simply level up until they can control these abilities without training, before they can use these. Secondarily, inexperienced dragons fairly often have minor “accidents” with these powers. That’s Corrupted for Reduced Cost (36 CP in total).

  • L2: Essence of the Dragon (SC, Costs 1 Mana)
  • L3: Giant’s Wrath (the Practical Enchanter, +2 Size Levels) and Dragonskin (SC)
  • L4: Flight of the Dragon (SC), Voice of the Dragon (SC)
  • L5: Dragonsight (SC), Grand Earthward (L5)
  • L6: Greater Invocation of Flame (SC), Aura of Terror (SC)

Grand Earthward: L5, activates once per round on it’s own, on or off action, blocking 60 points of damage from any one attack as well as any special effects – poison, energy drain, or whatever – that it might have).

A L6 Greater Invocation of Flame produces Fire effects of  up to level five – ranging from making toast and baking on through near-instant alchemical transformations and a wide variety of fire blasts.

Discordant Channeling. The ability to channel the power of the Discordant Powers is advanced Dragon Magic – and, in Equestrian terms, blatant dark magic. It is obvious to unicorns when used, always runs at least a slight risk of loss of control (basically a roll of “1″ on a will save when using the stuff), can provoke reactions from Harmony Magic, and can be countered by Harmony Magic. Any dragon can use, it, but only practice and mental discipline will provide even a modicum of control. It counts as being Specialized.

  • Witchcraft II. Provides the use of The Adamant Will, Healing (Specialized in Self-Healing for Double Effect), and Witchsight (Specialized in Scent, for no cost), with a base Power score equal to (Sum of Physical Attributes/3), and a base Will save DC of (13 + Cha Mod) (6 CP):
  • 1d6 Mana, taken as 3d6 Power. Only usable for Witchcraft (3 CP).
  • Ridden by the Loa with Partial Control, Corrupted/Only to draw on the Discordant Powers (2 CP).
  • Immunity/the one-point-per-hour cost of keeping Ridden by the Loa Running (Common, Minor, Major (up to 30 Power/Day equivalent, Corrupted/cannot normally be turned off to get rid of an inconvenient Discordant Power, 2 CP).

Drawing on the Discordant Powers generally provides +2 levels of Growth (96 CP) and 35 CP related to the particular power being channeled – the remaining 32 CP plus a disadvantage. It’s no coincidence that the “particular powers” match the basic structure of Mysteries. In fact, a Bokor in Equestria can also learn to channel the Discordant Powers – although they won’t get the “Growth” function. That’s another reason to regard them with fear and suspicion (as if another reason was needed). Perhaps, in Equestria, Bokor are the equivalent of basic d20 Sorcerers – ponies and zebras who just happen to have a dragon ancestor somewhere.

What about Lust? Well, you can include Lust as a perversion of Love or Harmony – but I doubt that the powers it grants require any real game rules. I may throw something in just to make sure that I cover everything – but it certainly isn’t necessary.

In any case… all of that comes out to 126 CP – a +3 ECL race. Of course, in a standard game, without the Superheroic World Template to provide a steady supply of Mana to work with, you’d probably want to invest another 32 CP or so in buying Mana and Rite of Chi with Bonus Uses to replenish the stuff.

Next time around on this topic I’ll see about the Discordant Powers.