Eclipse d20 – Standard And Nonstandard Attributes

Today’s question is kind of complicated – and leads us through a bit of “game design through the ages”. So once again, we will have some retrospective going on here with a question inspired by one of the Terminator articles.

The notation of the basic machine solder robot purchasing its ability scores with a point-buy value and then adding in “racial” adjustments got me thinking…

While robots are expected to all have identical ability scores, this is the case for all “monsters” as well. All winter wolves, for example, are going to have Str 20, Dex 13, Con 18, Int 9, Wis 13, Cha 10, unless one is a special case (i.e. has a template, advanced natural Hit Dice, etc.).

Now, that’s a bit of a sop towards ease of game-play; for monsters that are “on-screen” long enough for the PCs to slaughter them, using a standardized array of ability scores is fine. But this still presents an interesting idea; notwithstanding any discretionary ability points that they receive for every 4th Hit Die, as well as size adjustments, these creatures all have standard ability scores of 10 or 11, with the remaining adjustments all being racial in nature.

So for example, if we subtract the discretionary ability point for their 4th Hit Die from, say, Dexterity, and reverse the adjustments from being Large-sized, that means that winter wolves have base ability scores of Str 10, Dex 10, Con 10, Int 11, Wis 11, Cha 10 (using Pathfinder as the standard), with racial adjustments of Str +2, Dex +4, Con +4, Int -2, Wis +2, Cha +0. More notably, this has them buying up their base ability scores with only 2 points…raising their Intelligence and Wisdom each from 10 to 11 before any other adjustments are applied.

Now, those initial points (and the presumed racial adjustments) can be toggled slightly depending on where you presume that discretionary ability point went in their final array of ability scores, but the overall point remains. Winter wolves, like most monsters (and monstrous NPCs that aren’t built using PC-standard races) don’t use much of a point buy. In fact, even the basic NPC ability score array of 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8 comes to an overall value of 3 points…one more than the winter wolves in the above paragraph received!

My question, in this case, is what would it cost under the Eclipse rules (if anything) to allow for such monsters to buy up their basic ability scores similar to how PCs do, before applying racial ability modifiers and discretionary ability points from every 4th Hit Die? For NPCs that might not matter too much (since they’re still on-screen for the purpose of being killed), save for a possible CR adjustment, but what if I had one as a companion creature? If I’ve taken Leadership with the Beast-lord modifier, and I want a winter wolf as one of my followers, what sort of ability would it cost to allow them to buy up their basic ability scores with a 25-point buy, for example, to buy ability scores of Str 14, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 13, Wis 14, Cha 12.

After adding back in the modifiers for being Large-size (Str +8, Dex -2, Con +4), the racial modifiers (Str +2, Dex +4, Con +4, Int -2, Wis +2, Cha +0), and putting the discretionary ability point into Intelligence, that would give a final ability score array of Str 24, Dex 16, Con 22, Int 12, Wis 16, Cha 12. That’s better than your average winter wolf, but not quite as good as putting the advanced creature simple template on them, which is only +1 CR. What would it cost for them to buy the ability to have their ability scores constructed this way in Eclipse? Presumably some sort of Immunity (where the amount of resistance purchased allowed for higher point-buy expenditures in purchasing base ability scores)? Or would it be something else instead?

-Alzrius

Well, the general assumption there is that things that are basically constructs – Robots, Golems, Skeletons, and so on – actually are fairly standardized in roughly the same way that ball-point pens are standardized; the design is about as good and cheap as it’s going to get. There are special upgrades that can be applied (and possibly shortfalls that can be accepted), but a basically fixed cost gets you basically fixed results.

Actual in-setting living creatures – at least in theory – should show the usual bell-curve variations for their type. However, since the games attribute scale is set up to represent creatures on the human scale, a lot of this variation is lost. Sure, the worlds strongest wren may be several times as mighty as the weakest – but the rules, quite sensibly, cram all that variation down into “strength one”, simply because it makes no difference at all in play whether the a given wren can lift .3 or 1.5 ounces, just as it doesn’t actually matter how many swallows it might take to carry a coconut to England in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Similarly, there are doubtless stronger and weaker Tyrannosaurs, but that’s arbitrarily adjusted by the game master to suit his or her objectives, not according to their bio-mechanics – and it’s not like it’s going to matter much; no more-or-less human being is going to win against one in a biting or eating contest – which is pretty much a Tyrannosaurs sole role in the game. Given the rate of character turnover in earlier systems it wasn’t like good or bad attributes were a particularly long-term thing anyway.

So looking at the general population of playable character types, they (explicitly so in earlier editions) are generally presumed to take up tasks they’re suited for. Big strong types do things which call for strength, while frail, weak, but dexterous people do tasks that call for dexterity but not a lot of strength or endurance, and so on. Such were the results of rules that basically assumed a naturalistic world and a 3D6 roll for each attribute. Did you roll terribly? There was a rule allowing the discarding of characters (presumably to a career as a village idiot) if they failed to qualify for any character class – but the only real assumption what that completely hopeless types simply did not go adventuring or, if they did, they generally died so quickly that they weren’t worth worrying about.

In early editions, given regular character turnover… parties might well try to recruit that strong-and-healthy young farmer to be their next fighter, or that dexterous street kid to be their new thief. They would chip in to equip them, shelter them until they caught up a bit, and add them to their adventuring company. Individual adventurers weren’t all that important. The company WAS, and characters had a good reason for loyalty to it – it was their family, it had taken them in, and trained, them, and equipped them. Sometimes it had raised them. Henchmen were valuable, people with potential (apparent high attributes or useful skills) were well worth cultivating, and associates often turned into new PC’s. “Ascended Extras” was pretty much the normal order of things. Your party was high enough level to be able to afford a Wizard? You looked around at sages, and apprentices near graduation, and orphaned kids of mages who knew a few cantrips and had potential, dumped a bag of wizard-style goodies that no one else had any use for on them, and shepherded them through a few sessions until their level (thanks to the doubling experience point costs) started catching up with everyone else. Sure, that might just be backstory for a new character – but that kind of thing was usually worth something in-game.

The current problem, of course, arises from the fact that characteristics for adventurers are now generated using special systems (whether point or dice based) that place them far ahead of the general population (who are stuck with generic attribute arrays that say “everyone is pretty much average in everything”) – making “good attributes” a special power that you get because you’re an adventurer or selected-by-destiny “important NPC”, and adventurers and important NPC’s are cool. That’s… pretty weird when you think about what it says about the population demographics. How early can you detect this incredible special power? Are young adventurers sought after and picked up by temples, and governments, and other special-interest groups to be raised and trained to suit their own purposes? At least it would explain why so many of them have no families or other backgrounds to worry about and where they got all that specialized training.

Is there a lower level of this amazing power? After all, if the player characters and most important NPC’s are built using (say…) Pathfinder 25-Point Buy, are functionaries, henchmen, and companions built using 15 Points? Do they take special “sidekick courses”?

Perhaps it’s Nymic Magic? When your name comes to the attention of the Narrative Gods, you suddenly get improved attributes and go from “faceless extra” to “individualized NPC”? That says weird things about the setting, but it is fairly consistent with how the game is usually played.

Now, according to the 3.5 SRD under “Monsters As Races”…

Ability Scores for Monster PCs

While a monsters statistics give the ability scores for a typical creature of a certain kind, any “monster” creature that becomes an adventurer is definitely not typical. Therefore, when creating a PC from a creature, check to see if the creature’s entry has any ability scores of 10 or higher. If so, for each score, subtract 10 (if the score is even) or 11 (if the score is odd) to get the creature’s modifier for that ability based on its race or kind. Generate the character’s ability scores as normal, then add the racial ability modifiers to get their ability scores.

Note: Some monsters have base ability scores other than 10 and 11. If alternate scores were used this will be indicated in the monster entry. Also, some monsters that make good PCs have their racial ability modifiers and other traits already listed in their monster entry.

For ability scores lower than 10, the procedure is different. First, determine the character’s ability scores, and compare that number to the monster’s average ability score, using either the table below that applies to Intelligence or the table that applies to the other five ability scores.

The separate table for Intelligence ensures that no PC ends up with an Intelligence score lower than 3. This is important, because creatures with an Intelligence score lower than 3 are not playable characters. Creatures with any ability score lower than 1 are also not playable.

Which nicely covers monster player characters. It doesn’t say anything at all about NPC’s and Companions though.

Pathfinder has a section on generating NPC’s, including ability scores. It gives “Heroic NPC’s” an array of 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, and 15 – equating to a standard 15-point buy. “Basic NPC’s” get scores of 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 at a cost of 3 points – far inferior to almost any player character. Of course, the scores of basic NPC’s basically never matter anyway.

This, of course, means that the heroic NPC array is BETTER than what a low fantasy PC can buy, equal to what a standard fantasy character gets, lags a high fantasy PC (20 points) somewhat and lags an epic fantasy character (25 points) quite a bit. There’s no provision for adjusting things for other various methods of generating PC attributes, but it looks like the intent is that “heroic” NPC’s (basically anyone important) use the same system as player-characters since Pathfinder tends to push the point-buy attribute system.

Eclipse, of course, tends to assume that everyone and everything is following the same rules – (although I, personally, have an old-school fondness for rolled attributes). Sadly, this does lead to a bit of a clash with the demographic assumption that “10-11 is average” when it comes to ability scores since most generation methods give a higher average than that – thus setting most games in Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”.

You can fix this – for example, if you are giving your players 20 points to buy attributes with using the Pathfinder system you can say that “NPC’s roll 1d6: 1) -20 Points, 2) -15 Points, 3) -10 Points, 4) 10 Points, 5) 15 Points, and 6) 20 points. Thus a (-20) point NPC might have 7/7/7/7/8/8 for his or her attributes. You now have average attributes much closer to 10 (not quite since the attribute point costs are nonlinear) in the population and are simply assuming that only the people with good attributes make it to first level in “adventuring” classes – and that experts and such normally don’t go adventuring. That’s basically a modern version of the “discard characters with terrible attributes” rule , but there’s nothing wrong with that. The actual population will skew a bit towards higher attributes (just as the classical average was actually 10.5) simply because early mortality will be a bit higher in the low-attribute groups, but that (and the bias due to the asymmetrical attribute point costs) doesn’t really matter much.

So as for the actual question part…

“What would it cost in Eclipse to allow followers, henchmen, companions, et al, to generate their attributes as player characters do?”

The quick answer is “nothing”, since that’s the baseline assumption of most editions – if only because, much of the time, it doesn’t matter and no one cares.

The long answer, is – since attribute generation varies from game to game in the first place and may or may not vary between PC’s and NPC’s – that there’s no good way to price it effectively except by finding a way to Specialize or Corrupt your Companion or Leadership ability for Increased Effect (your companion or allies get higher base attributes) or by simply building it from scratch.

Personally, I’d go with “Must spend a lot of time and effort locating and recruiting Companions or Followers with PC-level attributes to get them”. So rather than accepting just any schlub who happens by, you’re picky and wind up with higher quality.

To just buy it directly… a Feat is obviously not enough if there is a substantial difference (and why couldn’t PC’s take it to raise their attribute point allotment?), and the +1 CR “Advanced” template (+4 to each attribute) really doesn’t work. After all, if +1 CR is a fair valuation, and +1 CR equates to +1 effective level (debatable, since Pathfinder doesn’t have those…), and we are allowed to stack templates., would – say – a 10’th level fighter with +20 to each attribute be better than a standard 15’th level fighter? After all, +10 to Attacks and Damage, +10 AC, +10 on Saves, +10 HP/Level, +10 SP/Level, +10 to all Skills… those are some very nice bonuses.

How about a 20’th level Wizard with +40 to each attribute versus a 30’th level Wizard? That throws in a huge pile of extra spells as well as doubling up on all those benefits. It would be rough at low levels – but you can’t generate such a character at a low level anyway.

Ergo, your second best approach in Eclipse is just to brute-force it. Throw on some attribute boosts in a template to get the attributes to where you want them and pay for adding the template to cover whatever it costs.

And I hope that helps!

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