Eclipse Witchcraft – Skills, Actions, and Concentration

And today, it’s a question. This one has actually been asked in various forms several times recently, so it’s moved up the priority list.

What are the actions of the various abilities which do not specify? For example, Leaping Fire’s (Witchcraft) ability to put Haste on oneself, or Occult Martial Art techniques like Wrath or Healing Hand?

-Various, most recently (and on the blog), River.

This one is actually a little awkward since it runs into a problem that’s not entirely specific to Witchcraft, but which stands out a lot more there since players (of course) have no practical real-world comparison to draw on.

Witchcraft abilities are essentially skills – and, like most skills, the listed options are hardly an exhaustive list of things you can do.

For a comparable example, lets say you have Craft (Pottery). According to the rules…

You can practice your trade and make a decent living, earning about half your check result in gold pieces per week of dedicated work. You know how to use the tools of your trade, how to perform the craft’s daily tasks, how to supervise untrained helpers, and how to handle common problems. (Untrained laborers and assistants earn an average of 1 silver piece per day.)

The basic function of the Craft skill, however, is to allow you to make an item of the appropriate type. The DC depends on the complexity of the item to be created. The DC, your check results, and the price of the item determine how long it takes to make a particular item. The item’s finished price also determines the cost of raw materials.

  • Can you roll it to – say – recognize a Potters Wheel or other basic paraphernalia? Of course you can – and that’s a free action. Any decent potter should recognize a Potters Wheel at a glance. I can, and my pottery experience is limited to a couple of experiments as a kid and a short segment in a high-school art course.
  • Can you judge how to break an amphora so that you wind up with a shard attached to the handle that you can use as a weapon? You can probably make that one as a part of the swift action of breaking the amphora you’re holding.
  • Can you roll it to tell if a pot was slip-cast or thrown? Yes you can. If the maker was a poor workman and left the ridge where the two halves of the mold met, you might be able to tell at a glance. If they scraped it away carefully it will be much harder and will require a careful examination that may take a minute or two.
  • Can you compound and apply glazes before firing a delicate set of teacups? Certainly. But now we’re looking at a lengthy project.
  • Can you tell a kiln from a bread oven? Build a kiln or Potters Wheel? Wedge clay? Make a slip-casting mold? Recognize a bed of fine clay suitable for making porcelain? Know what Grog is and how to use it? Determine what types of clay are best for high- and low-temperature applications?

Of course you can. All of that, and much more, is a fairly basic part of Craft (Pottery).

  • You can make heat-resistant tiles for a space shuttle, or for making high-tech bulletproof armor as well, but now we’re getting into some fairly tricky rolls, at least if you’re working with a set of medieval tools and a wood-fired backyard kiln.

Now, most people know enough about clay, pottery, and water to take a good-enough-for-game-purposes guess at how long this kind of thing is going to take. The same goes for a lot of other skills. There aren’t any rules about how hot a fire has to be to soften iron for forging, or how long it takes to bash out a crude dagger, or how to alloy steel for various purposes, or about refining iron ore into various types of iron. In large part that’s because those skills aren’t used in combat – although there’s also the fact that it doesn’t really matter for game purposes. D20 just assumes that all those basic uses of various skills are automatically successful.

Witchcraft extends that idea. It’s basically a no-roll skill system – mostly because adding yet more rolls to d20 combat situations is generally counterproductive to enjoying the game. So with Witchcraft you either have a skill or you don’t – and instead of advanced techniques having higher DC’s (and requiring rolls) you just buy packages of specific advanced techniques that you can use when you want to. The general idea, however, is the same: since witchcraft abilities are psychic skills, you can do quite a few things with them that aren’t specifically listed – and how long it takes depends on just what you’re doing.

So lets look at Hyloka, a Witchcraft ability which it allows you to adjust biophysical processes. That’s kind of delicate, so most of it’s tricks are probably at least a standard action – but a few things are obviously easy.

  • You want to adjust your eyes to full night-sensitivity when the lights go out? A free action. That happens automatically anyway, if normally more slowly. It might cost a point of power if you want to do it in a fraction of a second in combat though. The same goes for holding your breath a little longer and fooling lie detectors (which don’t work very well anyway). Tricks like this might cost a point of Power if you are under stress and in a rush, but that’s rarely a big problem.
  • You want to suppress a sneeze? Neutralizing the irritating effect of poison ivy? Not even an action and almost certainly no cost.
  • You want to increase the melanin content of the skin to prevent a sunburn or facilitate a disguise? Minutes and no cost for a bit of tanning to perhaps an hour (and likely a couple of points of Power) if you want to go from “Albino” to “Deep Black”.
  • Triggering or suppressing ovulation or the implantation of a fertilized ovum? Given that this needs to be done at least a bit in advance the action type is irrelevant, even if it does likely cost a Power point or two. This can be a very useful trick, but it’s almost certainly not going to come up in a combat situation unless something really strange is going on.

And that’s why Witchcraft effects mostly don’t list specific action types. They can be used in so many different ways that trying to do so is yet another doorway to an endless list that would inflate the book by hundreds of pages. There are some rules-of-thumb though – pretty much the same ones that apply to all other skills.

  1. If an effect specifies a type of action or time, you use that. For example, The Adamant Will specifies that it can be used defensively as needed, and that this does not count as an action. On the other hand Brewing requires hours and Master The Elements involves a spirit-quest requiring 1d8 x 1d8 hours.
  2. If an effect simply gives you something, no action at all is required. For example, Longevity adds to the duration of a character’s age categories while The Inner Fire activates bonus spell slots – both useful effects, but not something that the character needs to “turn on”. Once such abilities are acquired they’re pretty much permanently in effect.
  3. If an effect augments another action, it’s a part of that action. Thus using Glamour to boost a Social Skill Check is a part of that skill check, as is using The Inner Eye to boost Sense Motive or Shadowweave to enhance Stealth. Have you got Voice Of The Dead and want to use Diplomacy on some undead that would normally be immune? It’s use is a part of that skill check. If you’re a martial type and you’ve got a version of Elfshot specialized in inflicting minor curses (in the form of hindering wounds) on those you hit with a weapon, triggering that effect is a part of rolling damage. Using Whisper Step to enhance your movement is often a part of a movement action, using Witchsight to boost your Perception check is a part of that action, and so on. On the other hand, using Witchsight to give yourself Darkvision isn’t so simple; that’s a more complex, enduring, effect and is an action of it’s own.
  4. If an ability is being used for trivial purposes or as a minor special effect for dramatic purposes, it’s generally a free action and usually won’t cost anything. Do you want to use Witchfire to light your cigarette, or warm your tea, instead of spending one power point on Witchfire to hurl a bolt of fire? A free action. Want to use Shadowweave to add a glint of light from your shiny white teeth when you smile? A free action. You want to use Hand Of Shadows to set your cloak flowing in the (non-existent) breeze? A free action.
  5. If a specified effect needs to be of a particular action type to function, it’s of that type. Thus, Leaping Fire (among other applications) lets you add a Move-Equivalent Action during any given round. That obviously wouldn’t work if that particular effect required a move-equivalent or higher action type; it wouldn’t have any effect. Just as importantly, it’s “during the round”, not “during your turn” – so it can only be an Immediate Action. Sure, that only adds a Move Action – but that’s a potential lifesaver. Breath Of Peruza can be used to allow you to survive what would normally be an instantly-mortal injury. For example, Dark Lord Kevin used it to survive being Vaporized – reduced to minus several hundred hit points in an instant (admittedly, he had an awful lot of support available that helped him pull off that trick). That’s about as extreme as it gets – but that was either an Immediate Action or Not An Action at all. After all… surviving something that ought to have killed you instantly pretty obviously won’t work if you have to wait until your turn to use it.
    1. Unspecified effects may not be possible at all. Sure, The Adamant Will can “protect your mind”, but that doesn’t mean that you can use it to block a blow to the head. It doesn’t work that way. Similarly, using Healing to “Regenerate Your Body” when  you’ve been decapitated might have to be an immediate action to work, but since it’s well beyond the limits of that power it’s not going to work in the first place – and so it doesn’t matter what kind of action it might be if it could work. And yes, that kind of question has come up.
  6. If a power doesn’t need to be a quicker type of action to work, but isn’t particularly complicated and is relevant to combat, it’s probably a standard action. You want to use Elfshot (sometimes known as “The Evil Eye”) to put a minor curse on someone? Use Healing to counter the effect of a toxin? Invoke Ridden By The Loa to call on a tiger-spirit and use part of it’s power? Use Witchfire to fuse an iron door to it’s frame? Use Nightforge to try and entrap something in “adamant” bonds? Use Dismissal to try and banish a demon? All of those actions, and hundreds more, are going to be standard actions.
  7. If a power is a long-term (but not permanent) thing, or especially complicated, it’s almost certainly at least a full-round action – and may well take even longer than that. If you’re planning to use Dreamfaring to sink into a trance, project your spirit into the Astral or Ethereal Plane, seek out the restless spirit which is haunting a location, and persuade it to leave… it is going to take a bit – and it doesn’t matter exactly how long. Want to use Hyloka to hibernate or grow hair? Healing to induce an hour-long healing trance? Witchfire to infuse carbon into cold iron to produce a high-carbon tempered steel blade without losing it’s “cold iron” properties? True Prosperity to enhance a farming villages harvests? It may take quite a while or simply require your attention occasionally – but exactly how long or how often generally doesn’t matter because they’re not combat abilities.

There’s a secondary consideration here too; Witchcraft can produce effects equivalent to many spells – but unless you’ve modified it with Specialization and Corruption to act like a spellcasting system it’s still a set of skills – NOT a fire-and-forget magic system.

If you use Shadowweave to create some sort of illusion, that’s something you’re actively doing – just as a ventriloquist can make his or her voice seem to be coming from somewhere else, a lasso artist can make jumping through his or her spinning loop seem effortless, and someone making shadow-pictures on a wall can make them seem to move, yet none of those effects persist after the operator stops producing the effect. How much concentration this takes is open to question though. Use Shadowweave to create a light or darken an area? Not much; the effect may be being maintained, but it’s simple and low powered and you can probably keep it up without paying much of any attention to it. Are you trying to maintain active camouflage or “invisibility”? That’s probably going to require concentration since that’s going to require constant adjustment as you move and have to change what you’re doing.

Other effects have a degree of built in “inertia”; once you use Glamour to convince someone that you are a homeless bum rather than a wealthy eccentric (or vice-versa), it usually takes some time and evidence to overcome that impression. If you use Leaping Fire to accelerate your healing rate to absurd levels it takes a few moments for the effect to run down. If you change the weather with Weathermonger to produce a storm and stop your working… the storm will clear up shortly unless the environmental conditions are right to sustain it, but it won’t just vanish.

Finally, of course, there are effects that produce permanent changes. Most of those are fairly obvious; if you use Witchfire to extract a drug from a plant, or infuse poison into some wine, you’ve basically just moved some molecules around – and they don’t go back when you stop. If you dissipate the energy of a fire with Grounding, it will stay out after you stop unless someone or something re-ignites it. There are a few techniques that let you invest a portion of your Power or even Life in something to maintain an effect indefinitely, but they’re rare – and require a willing decision to do so.

And hopefully that adds clarity instead of confusion!

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