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.

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