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.

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