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.

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