Eclipse and Skills – Paths and Powers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



One Response

  1. […] to one of the various “social skills don’t work on the undead” theories discussed in the previous article under Channeling – but the Advanced Witchcraft abilities are not feat chains, and may be taken in any order. Thus […]

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