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

 

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2 Responses

  1. You could even combine Executive and Berserker for extra fun. I mean… Why not Specialize Berserker to only apply to Executive and corrupt it to only be available when a superior orders you to perform the task. Then we take Executive (Specialized and Corrupted: Only affects a specific group of people (in race, clan, cult, alliance, union or otherwise); only while Berserking). As a result, we have +60 Effective Levels (and -6 AC because you pay attention to nothing else), which turn into +180 Levels for Executive (basing the boni on three times your level).

    Archers with such a bonus would be very stealthy and good shots :3

    • Sorry, but I didn’t see this until now for some reason. Perhaps it got pushed off the comment-tracking page too quickly.

      I think you mean taking Berserker (with the Odinpower and Odinmight upgrades) to apply to your effective level for the use of Executive with the Tactician modifier. That’s kind of odd – short-term bursts of superhuman effort rarely express themselves as tactical skill, but I suppose it could be harmony magic or some sort of gestalt mind.

      Limiting it to working with a fairly specific group (in terms of the campaign; if it’s Clan McCloud against the world, having it only work on fellow clansmen is not really a limitation) would work too, but having part of the description be “allies” really wouldn’t; you generally don’t want to provide combat bonuses to non-allies and they probably would not listen anyway. Limiting it to people in a particular clan or cult would probably work though – getting you up to a +15 bonus to attacks and damage.

      Applying the same limitations to Executive to triple the effect again falls afoul of the usual d20 rules for adding multipliers though; you’d need a new set of limitations – possibly something like “only when defending a particular area”.

      Admittedly, this would result in truly massive bonuses – probably around +60 to Attacks and Damage – but it would cost a several levels worth of character points to buy, will only last for a few rounds, and and will be extremely difficult to apply.

      Personally, I’d go for the Strategos package or something more generally useful. This strikes me as one of those things that’s impressive when it comes up, but which virtually never will.

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