Cursed with Awesome; Dark Magic and You

Today’s question basically boils down to “Dark magic often seems to act rather like a progressive disease – and in many works even benign magic is dangerous if overused. How does that work and how can it be cured or treated?”

Ok, the original question was framed in terms of My Little Pony; Friendship is Magic – but it’s talking about a very common element of magic in religion, mythology, and fiction, and that makes it a very good question indeed for those designing or running role playing games with magic in them.

As usual, my answer should be taken as the definitive word of god, end all further debate on the topic forever, and you should send me lots of money in exchange for the secret directions to the lost continent of Atlantis where you can learn even more… No? Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Mentioning Twilight’s “little foray into mass mind control” reminds me of a related issue that I saw mentioned a while back.

A lot of the fandom has a big problem with Twilight have tried to make a “reform spell” to use on Discord, pointing out that that’s little more than mind control since what constitutes “being reformed” is going to be relative. That’s not an incorrect point, but it overlooks a salient issue: that a lot of evil magic functions as a sickness.

Admittedly, this isn’t an iron-clad issue, but it does have some supporting points (seen both before and after the episode in question, which was season three’s Keep Calm and Flutter On). Although Luna seemed to fall from grace for personal reasons, her defeat with the Elements of Harmony seemed to immediately cause a shift in her mentality (and she later characterized what happened as being “stripped of Our dark powers”). Likewise, Rarity is “infected” with “dark magic” in season four’s Inspiration Manifestation. And although it’s not explicitly evil magic, both “Midnight Sparkle” and Gloriosa Daisy (from the third and fourth Equestria Girls movies, respectively) suffered from temporary psychosis due to magic overload.

Now, there’s evidence that goes the other way – such as Celestia being not only able to use the same dark magic as King Sombra, but teach it to Twilight (Return of the Crystal Empire – Part 1) – but there’s at least some precedent to say that a “reform spell” should be a viable idea, since a lot of evil magic is presented as being a sort of “disease of the mind.”


Well, that is a classic problem. Whether it’s the use of lovecraftian lore that men were not meant to know (and which drives them mad), greater magics being inherently corrupting, demanding huge prices and self-indulgences for the use of magic because it uses up your lifespan, having to mortgage your soul, or any of a thousand other “prices”, the notion that “you’ve got to pay for what you get” (and likely a certain “sour grapes” feeling that the spell casters special advantages will somehow turn around and bite them in the butt) is a bit part of people’s thinking about magic.

Personally, I think that it largely follows from some very basic principles, even if most people aren’t consciously aware of the logic.

1) “Magic”, whatever the nature of the forces it involves, can cause an incredibly wide array of alterations in reality.

2) Magic-wielders channel at least some part of those forces through themselves.

3) Nothing is 100% efficient.

Ergo… a certain amount of semi-randomized (if very likely still in theme) reality-alteration is going to affect a magic-wielder whenever he or she channels magic.

4) Living things have mechanisms that maintain homoeostasis – a tendency to return to their baseline conditions – to at least some degree.

Ergo… a certain amount of magic use can be tolerated without much risk. Using “small” magics, just like using a little bit of alcohol, sugar, or caffeine, will generally have no noticeable long-term ill effects unless you use something that’s especially “toxic” (that’s why I’d much rather work with iron than with dimethylmercury). You can even build up your effective tolerance by becoming more skilled and thus minimizing the amount of contamination. Exceed your tolerance by using too much magic at any one time, however, and changes may occur that aren’t easily reversed. Even presuming that you don’t accidentally turn your spinal cord to broccoli, or cook your brain, and so get to live, excessive magic use can cause all kinds of physical, mental, or even spiritual disorders. Presumably most mages would rather that did not happen – although “ceasing to care”, and so being willing to accept the consequences, may allow dying mages, or even fairly normal people, to lay unexpectedly powerful curses or produce “final strike” effects.

  • A well-trained magician has a clear mind, focused concentration, a detailed understanding of the spell he or she wants to use, fine control of the necessary energies, plenty of practice, whatever tools (if any) are necessary, access to sufficient magical power, and possibly supplementary stabilizing effects. They will use the gestures, signs, and symbols that help channel their magic safely.

That’s the equivalent of a well-trained chemist using a carefully planned procedure, correctly maintained equipment, a modern laboratory with fans, vents, and electrical power, sufficient pure chemicals, a fume hood, tongs, a hazmat suit, assistants and emergency equipment handy, and having antidotes at the ready.

In either case, as long as proper precautions are taken and the operator doesn’t make any major errors, their exposure should be small enough that the body, mind, or spirits various stabilizing and defensive mechanisms should be able to handle it.

To extend the analogy… just as with chemistry, some types of magic are more toxic, dangerous, or difficult to work with than others, working with waldos is much safer than handling stuff yourself, and farming out as much as possible of the work to other entity entirely (preferably at an “industrial facility”) is the safest of all.

With that in mind, lets take a look at some sample magical fields.

  • Alchemy is a sub-branch of Vancian or Talismanic Magic that puts some of the danger and tension back in by throwing in the hazards of actual chemistry and adds extra restraints by requiring costly ingredients. Many fictional wizards are alchemist-ritualists, because – while it means that they can do all kinds of things and can provide magical equipment – their powers are slow and call for all sorts of exotic ingredients that their assistants have to go on fetch-quests to get for them.
    • And no, Fullmetal Alchemist style “alchemy” doesn’t really have anything to do with “alchemy” as such. It’s actually a branch of Transformation Magic, with “Equivalent Exchange” – and burning human souls for fuel – thrown in as limiting factors and fridge horror.
  • Beast Mastery? A common and easy branch of hedge magic, if often handy. Influencing and communicating with animals is probably safe enough, borrowing some of their abilities is getting a bit risky – although far less so if you stick to real creatures with nonmagical abilities which can be imitated without bizarre magical changes to your mind and spirit – but when you get to actually transforming yourself or others… that can go very, VERY, wrong all too easily. Ask any lycanthrope who’s gotten stuck, or been overwhelmed by animal instincts.
  • Black Magic? Perhaps black magic calls on powerful demons – and so tends to be inherently destructive and corrupting of the user. Thus Lina Inverse may use it regularly – and be incredibly powerful and destructive – but she’ll probably be more than a little crazy.
  • C’hi “Magic” – channeling your own personal energies – doesn’t usually have very exotic side effects. Unfortunately, it requires great talent and enormous amounts of both physical and mental training to reach high levels of effect – and is VERY prone to relatively mundane side effects like exhaustion, training injuries, overstrain, attracting rivals, and injuring yourself with your own powers. It’s also usually limited to extensions of the user’s natural abilities. Still, on the upside, that makes it a very intuitive form of magic to use. You won’t find yourself entangled in weird occult mysteries when Samurai Jack teaches you to “Jump Good”.
  • Chaos Magic (also often seen as “Art becomes Reality”) seems likely to be particularly problematic; it’s not inherently “black” or “evil” – but it’s obviously going to be nigh-impossible to fully control and thus likely to have all kinds of effects on it’s user – and fatal ones are all too possible. Of course, that means that there may be lots of untapped chaos available to anyone who does use it, making it very powerful. Personally, I’d stay away from chaos magic unless I was basically immortal, not too dependent on a physical brain to think properly, and capable of recovering very quickly from almost anything (like Discord or “Q“). I’d probably still go mad very quickly if I used chaos magic – but at least it would be a fun ride!
  • Conjuration Magic comes in three drastically different flavors – Creation, Manifestation, and Summoning. Simply creating things Ex Nihlo is one of the primal powers. It’s what defines a “creation myth” – and while it generally seems to be much easier with magic than it is with physics, most settings presume that their characters are seriously restricted in scale, in type, and in complexity, in their ability to simply create things. Even worse… creating even tiny traces of random stuff inside yourself is a REALLY bad idea. There are far more ways to create unstable matter, radioactive atoms, unbalanced charges, strangelets, radiation, toxins, and other troublesome things inside yourself than there are to create things that your body can handle. When you have even a little bit of randomized creation magic manifesting in your body the results are almost guaranteed to be very bad.
    • Manifestation – basically whipping up temporary constructs – is far easier and safer; by it’s very nature it’s unlikely to create anything very long-term inside you (not that short-term can’t be bad enough). Constructs, of course, tend to be limited in complexity, are often obvious, and generally don’t last very long – although they can still be very useful.
    • Summoning, of course, actually has little to do with “creating things” and more to do with transportation and, at least in the ever-popular “summon a creature or creatures to assist me” form, either divination or compulsion – but it’s still a very potent form of magic, and one that’s less likely than most to cause serious internal problems. On the other hand… you can all too easily summon the wrong thing entirely, lose control even if you get what you want, turn powerful magical beings into enemies, and otherwise unleash disaster. How many stories revolve around conjurers losing control and raising up – like Charles Dexter Ward – that which they cannot put down?
  • Darkness Magic? Well, classically… it’s powerful and available everywhere, but is very hard to sense well enough to control, makes it tremendously easy to deceive yourself, tends to conceal it’s costs and side effects from its own users, and has all sorts of negative and corrupting overtones. Unless you happen to have massive amounts of light magic running through your system to help keep it under control – or are a genius in handling magic – it’s probably best to leave it alone. There’s a reason why so many genocidal madmen like King Sombra or Eclipso use darkness magic.
  • Dimensional Magic covers gates, dimensional overlays, teleportation, many transport spells, and overlaps into summoning. Sadly, most of the really interesting aspects of dimensional magic are pretty high-powered. On the good side, direct errors are usually limited to simple problems with lost or displaced tissue – mere physical injury. On the other hand, meddling with other dimensions offers you access to a full set of major difficulties with lovecraftian horrors, exposure to otherworldly forces, and letting things that should not be into reality.
    • Remember, reality is where you keep all your stuff. Don’t destroy it.
  • Divination? Unless the universe really is full of unmentionable secrets that will drive you mad, even fairly advanced divination is going to be relatively safe. Indirectly however… Too Much Information really is a thing. Knowing what people really think of you, and what’s actually in your food, and so on, seems all too likely to turn you into a bitter hermit. Worse, telling people what’s going to happen to them is quite unpopular; thus the stereotype of crazy prophets issuing dark and dire warnings and the fate of Cassandra.
  • Dream Magic? While this has many safe and subtle applications, once you start hauling things in and out of the realms of dream, or try to give something an independent, enduring, existence… well, dreams are never entirely under your control even if you’re a skillful lucid dreamer. High level dream magic tends to be worrisomely independent. The most dangerous practice of all may be summoning a conceptual entity – whether you call it a Loa, a Nexus, or a Spirit – into your own body. While this can obviously grant you considerable power, turning yourself into the avatar of War, or even April Fools Day, is likely to bring a lot of baggage with it.
  • Elemental Magic? Perhaps elemental magic is reasonably safe through the mid-levels (after all, your bodies are made of the elements, and can presumably handle them fairly effectively), but requires a major special talent and perhaps great physical conditioning. At very high levels… you’ll need very special disciplines, or major innate protections, to use it without going more than a little mad. Say “Hello!” to Avatar the Last Airbender and his fellow characters.
    • If elemental magic is more philosophical about what the “elements” mean and cover, you’re headed more into far more subtle “new age” magic territory. That tends to backlash if used to harm other people – perhaps because everyone has a little elemental magic available simply because they have physical elemental bodies, and they tend to unconsciously resist and cause backlash with their own magic if magically attacked. In d20 this might also be taken as a mechanism underlying “Saving Throws”.
  • Gifts? If your magic is just a few built-in innate or granted talents that’s pretty much the equivalent of having a few special-purpose kits or emergency ampules. They won’t be particularly versatile, or have the kind of power a full laboratory or hospital will – but you’ll have access to some reasonably reliable specific effects. Even better, almost anyone can use this kind of magic – if they have the talent for it. There may or may not be a price, but it’s usually fixed. Are you perhaps a Contractor, from Darker then Black or a Garou from a Werewolf game? Here you go!
  • Harmony or Fusion Magic is basically an “all our powers combined!” thing; a group of mages or magical creatures get together, unite their powers, and unleash some effect that’s far beyond any of them as individuals. In fact, it usually gets lots of extra power from some sort of amplification effect or focusing artifact(s) if the group has the right number of members/appropriate powers/are good friends or in love/whatever. This is not necessarily a GOOD thing. If the Seven Dark Sorcerers of the Ebon Tower unite their powers in hatred, that will probably work too. The real trouble with this form of magic is that it’s very very conditional and more than a bit uncontrollable; if something is just a little out of place (like one person trying to use the six elements of harmony)… Goten and Trunks will fail to fuse to form Gotenks, the elements of harmony will not be able to generate the full-powered Rainbow of Light (and may wind up exiling your target rather than curing them), and Psi-Force’s Psihawk construct will be weak and ineffectual, The massed Care-Bear Stare seems to be fairly reliable, but that was because everyone involved was an incurably huggy care bear. After all… if this sort of thing was entirely reliable, why waste your time doing anything else? Secondarily, this tends to leave everyone (all, of course, will be affected equally) involved seriously drained, exhausted, or unconscious – another reason why it’s normally a last resort. If it doesn’t work, you probably won’t even be able to defend yourself any longer.
  • Healing Magic? Let us say that healing magic tends to correct the problems using it causes, but those same corrections limit how much power you can channel into it since it corrects the unnatural mental states needed to channel massive amounts of magic. Thus healing magic is safe to use, and possibly widespread, but very limited. Depending on just how dangerous other magics are, healing magic could be the ONLY reasonably safe magic about. You want to use high-level healing magic despite those limitations? You’re going to have to train the necessary mental states the hard way – meditating, “purifying” yourself, and very likely filling your mind with duties, obligations, and oaths, and so on – rather than relying on raw magical power to burn the necessary pathway through your mind. Thus only dedicated, and often pacifistic, healers wield truly powerful healing magic.
  • Illusion is a popular branch of magic, partially because it seems unlikely to have any long-term side effects beyond (perhaps), a bit of confusion (a very few really high-powered illusionists may have gotten “lost in their own illusions”, but this is a very rare idea), because it allows amazing exercises of creativity at rather low power levels, and because – while it can be used in many different ways – the actual effects are generally very limited. Even better, your mage-character can display his vast powers, triumph over a major opponent – and then have the situation be completely reversed by some minor side-character announcing “Hey! It’s just an illusion!”. Still… becoming a manipulative a-hole prankster through perfectly normal psychological effects is definitely still on the table – and one opponent with some sort of truesight can effectively put you out of action.
  • Light or Solar Magic? It’s wonderful stuff. Purifying, truth-revealing, demon-banishing, radiant – and wrathful, intolerant, and demanding. The light requires purity, it burns away imperfection, It demands that it’s wielders serve it, and it serves them only insofar as they are worthy. If you wish to wield the great powers of the light… be prepared to sacrifice much of your humanity and to act only when your example is not enough to let those you protect grow and find their own answers. Check out The Dark Is Rising series, or talk to Celestia (and ask why she’s so generally useless).
  • Lovecraftian Magic tells us that there are other planes of existence, and cosmic beings, and strange forces, and elder alien races, and more out there, and that there are ways available to contact and use those things – and that human beings are insignificant primitives with minds so weak that merely catching a glimpse of the universes greater truths will shatter them utterly. They may occasionally use a bit of true power – but they will merely be meddling with things they do not truly understand by rote. Lovecraftian Magic is generally horribly powerful, prone to failure for completely unknown reasons, drives it’s user’s mad, and – since it doesn’t operate in any way that humans can understand – comes in the form of highly specific formula, that have fixed effects and side effects and prices which cannot be modified. Overall the only reasons to meddle with lovecraftian magic are ignorance, if nothing else will work, or if you are crazy to start with.
  • Magical Music is more of a style than a particular type of effect unless it’s limited to “mental programming” – in which case it will be near impossible to use it without exposing yourself and any nearby allies to the same effects. While this type of effect is obviously useful – you can turn enemies into friends, control behavior, induce emotions, and teach skills near-instantly, among many other effects – it has the fairly obvious problem of having to consciously learn and practice effects which are contained in music – which means letting major parts of them into your mind over and over again. Have you been doing a lot of mind control? You’re likely to be a mass of compulsive behaviors. Been spreading friendship, love, and joy? Welcome to cloud-cookoo land! Been spreading fear and panic? Enjoy being a resident of paranoia central! And that is why magical music is generally simply a style of magic use with a preference for the more subtle effects, rather than being used as a type of magic in itself.
  • Nature Magic? Another exceedingly broad field, and another potentially deadly one. Nature isn’t NICE and it tends to break free of control all too readily. Much of what little bit of nature is involved with any given other species wants it dead. Predators, poisons, defense mechanisms… The entire natural world is based on survival. Cooperation is a strategy – but “don’t be eaten” and “get what you need to live” is always at the base. And even a minor change to a few microorganisms can cause some pretty horrible things to happen. It isn’t going to be fun to be you when your intestinal flora starts consuming your guts or some such.
  • Necromancy was originally just “Divination through the Dead” – which meant that you tried to get advice from ghosts, who presumably had at least a good viewpoint, some detachment, and possibly could spot spiritual influences on things or talk to other spirits. Getting advice from a deceased parent in a dream, or messing about with a Ouija board, both fall under “necromancy”, even if the dream is completely inadvertent. These days it often is taken to imply psychopathic behavior, raising horrific undead monsters to menace the world, wielding horrible necrotic energies, and various other antisocial feats. Given that inflicting death, long-term disabilities, and unhealing injuries are all major components of necromantic magics, it’s all too easy to see why using necromantic magic is horribly risky – and why it’s very difficult to near-impossible to treat the side effects when it goes wrong.
    • OK, there are simply too many examples of this to even pick a few… Go ahead, go to TV Tropes and pick a dozen or so of your favorites.
  • Psychic Powers? While these resemble C’hi “Magic” in many ways, and share their same general weakness compared to many other fields of magic, channeling high levels of mind-affecting magic through your mind tends to result in irrationality and madness all too soon. Using telepathy can let other minds affect yours, telekinesis is prone to action-reaction errors and kinetic feedback, and so on. On the upside… most of the resulting mental problems tend to be fairly transient.
  • Ritual Magic is a wonderful toy. It’s powerful, and probably won’t drive you mad since the power is mostly being channeled externally (Hooray for Waldos!) – but that greatly reduces your fine control, making it prone to going wrong, external side effects, and unwanted consequences. Worse, since you’re working indirectly, you have to build up your effects very slowly – carefully checking each elaborate ritual step. Only the wealthy and powerful will have the resources needed to study more than a few simple rituals, the time to perform them, or the ability to gather the components needed for major ritual magic. That’s why, in the world of magic, major rituals are often the equivalent of nuclear weapons and why ritualists are so often nobles, politicians, or mercenary scholars – a magical elite which rules the helpless peasantry while quarreling with each other.
  • Shamanic Magic? Well, if shamanic magic requires taking mind-altering drugs and powerful shamanic magic demands taking massive doses of hallucinogens… then sane and powerful shamans are going to be few and far between and shamanic magic is likely to be considered a dark or forbidden art. That doesn’t make it evil – but no sane society is going to encourage the practice of an art which gives people the ability to warp reality while either making them high or driving them insane or both.
  • Silly Magic is closely related to gift magic, and is usually extremely limited in application and fairly weak – but is almost free of downsides other than having invested the time and effort to learn to use it “effectively” in the first place. Still, if you can just find an application, silly magic can quickly turn into lethal joke magic. “Medusa? Not a problem! With my Hairdressing Powers I shall bind up most of her snakes into a tight bun, and turn the rest into a set of bangs which both partially blinds her and conceals her face! Attack in safety my friends!”. Personally, my favorite form of “Silly Magic” is Hearthcrafting – household magics. Just the thing for when you want to adventure in comfort!
  • Theurgy is one of the names for calling upon spirits to do things for you. At least at low-levels this is safe enough as long as you’ve paid in advance, but the more powerful the spirit the greater the demands – and heaven help you if you have to go into debt. At higher power levels it’s best to build a relationship with a particular spirit or group thereof – allowing them to do most of the power-handling for you while you (unfortunately) are pretty much at their beck and call. Fortunately, truly major spirits tend to have enough people calling on them to rarely need you in particular. It still greatly limits your flexibility though, since the “Krakatoa the Volcanic One” isn’t really likely to grant that wide a variety of powers. On the other hand, since the spirits are doing the work, the user is at little hazard from his or her own powers.
    • In early gaming this tended to be a big thing; clerical types worked for their gods, had to pay attention to their dictates and restraints, and only got magic that fit with their god. For good or ill however… power creep set in, quite a lot of players disliked their being limitations on their magical fantasies, and having the cleric sent on “missions from god” that didn’t fit into anyone else’s story annoyed the other players – so these days mainstream games usually only have cosmetic traces of this sort of thing left.
  • Transformation (or sometimes Lunar) Magic is one of the four primordial powers of the universe – Creation, Preservation, Transformation, and Destruction – which basically cover everything. As such, it is potentially immensely powerful, almost endlessly versatile (at least if you’re at all clever), and incredibly dangerous. Not surprisingly, it’s closely related to Chaos Magic and has very similar problems. When you’re using a force that could do almost anything based on very minor details – the textbook definition of modern “chaos theory” – almost anything could go wrong.
  • Vancian – or TalismanicMagic involves slowly gathering power, binding it into a formula with specific effects stored in words, or talismans, or powders, runes, or whatever (most artificing falls into this category as well), and releasing it when needed. While this is awfully limiting in some ways, it also bypasses most of the usual implied costs; since you’re basically “building” your “spells” very slowly and carefully out of small pieces you are never having to channel enough power to really hurt yourself. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be a loony, but being a Vancian or Talismanic mage probably isn’t going to be the cause.
    • This one is highly favored in games because it means that mages have a limited stockpile of magic that takes time and (interruptible) effort to get back, the size of their stockpile can be easily limited, the specific nature of their formulas limits the variety of effects that can be produced, it makes for an easily tracked fire-and-forget system, and you can increase their power in several ways – increasing the limits of their stockpile, increasing the power of their “spells”, making their magic easier to regain, or increasing their supply of formula. It even forces mages to limit their magic use, and to plan ahead and consider how to get the most mileage out of their limited daily supply. That ties up resource management, a spell-selection minigame, a reason for intelligence gathering and planning, lets magic be more powerful than mundane methods because it can only be used a limited number of times, sets of specific effects that the game master can plan around, and all kinds of other advantages.
      • It also makes playing such a spellcaster extremely complicated and means that the characters power and effectiveness will vary from “nearly useless” to “oh my GOD” depending on player skill – but whether those are features or bugs is open to debate.
  • Wards and Shields – sometimes known as Abjuration Magic – is about the safest available form after healing magic. That doesn’t mean that it can’t go wrong – but the most likely problems are exhaustion, backlash damage from people breaking your defenses, and “protecting” yourself from things you need. This form of magic is always at a disadvantage though, simply because you can damage things in a lot of ways and don’t need a lot of control to do so, while protecting things requires covering a wide range of possibilities and excellent fine control.

So now we have a set of mechanisms for how magic leads to insanity, corruption, or various other disorders – and that means that there are options for treatment.

You have a mild case of magical overload? You’re getting more erratic, or coughing constantly and not feeling well, or are having strange thoughts, or urges to do odd and distasteful things, or are feeling cut off from other people? Cutting back on your use of magic will help. Various sorts of therapy may be enough to let you recover without more drastic intervention. Of course, if you don’t get treatment, your mental and physical condition is likely to get steadily worse Mr Raistlin!

You’ve gotten afflicted with a creeping psychopathic corruption that makes you want to enslave and torture people – and it’s darkness-magic based so that it blinds you to the fact that anything is wrong? That is going to be hard to fix; darkness magic will conceal itself and make the problem hard to target properly, there may not be much of your mind, spirit, and/or body left to work with if it’s gotten too far, and you probably won’t want it fixed at the moment. Even worse… darkness magic makes it all too easy to lie to yourself. Even if someone manages to cure you, the temptation to use more darkness magic to blot out your new load of overwhelming guilt will be hard to resist – and it will only take one little slip to start down the slippery slope again without even knowing it. Even the most compassionate opponents may see the wisdom of eliminating you, rather than taking the risk that whatever is left of you will once again become a blight on the lives of innocent people.

Especially if they – or you, Mr Sombra – have been around the loop before.

You’ve let an out-of-control conceptual entity become dominant over you Princess Luna? Once it gets booted out, you should return to something approaching normal – but in the meantime it has it’s own power and all of yours to play with. Getting it out is not going to be easy. It may even call for a full-scale Deus Ex Machina manifestation of Harmony Magic to do it – and you’d better hope that you have the right number of characters with the right selection of attitudes and abilities to power that harmonic manifestation or it won’t work properly.

Your overuse of necrotic magic is causing your flesh to wither, your eyes to turn yellow and red, and your aging to advance unnaturally? Major healing effects might help some – but the necrotic energy saturating your body is likely to make you highly resistant to that sort of thing. If you aren’t so far gone already that undeath or possessing a new body are the only (partial) solutions you’ll need to quit using your powers and work on purging yourself until healing effects WILL work. And… you knew that already and aren’t really listening, are you Emperor Palpatine? Never mind… I’ll up your painkiller dosage and do try to get SOME sleep won’t you?

You’ve been habitually using Chaos Magic to do EVERYTHING for thousands of years? Why aren’t you dead? Oh… immortal. Not even really needing a body except as a focus. Well… a stabilizing spell may work for a little bit, but I’m afraid that you’d be well past the point of death if you were mortal. Still, perhaps the constantly-renewing Magic of Friendship can keep you marginally sane as long as you have friends.

You’re still likely to be an unreliable, practical-joking, irrational loon though Mr Discord.

Now there are lots of other ways to handle magic in a setting – but I like this one because it starts with basic assumptions that most people will agree with, is simple and logical enough to be easily explained, fits in with a lot of standard literary tropes and ideas about magic, and is flexible enough to offer cover a lot of variations. It’s obviously not perfect – but given the lack of functioning magic in reality we don’t really need perfection in a theory, we just need something that we can build stories and games around.

And I hope that answers the question sufficiently!

Death Ward and Channeling

And for today, it’s a question…

An interesting question came up with regards to channeling. Insofar as channeling that’s based on positive or negative energy goes, to what extent could a death ward (or life ward, for positive energy) simply shut down channeling altogether?

Obviously that would only work on things that directly affected another creature, rather than the channeler themselves or an allied creature, etc., but it brings up an interesting question, particularly insofar as something is actually a “negative energy effect” versus being powered by negative energy (e.g. a conversion effect to a spell that’s not explicitly negative-energy based).

Given that a 4th-level spell effect can so totally shut down channeling, and potentially most uses of channeling, there was also a question of coming up with a similar 4th-level effect even for channeling that’s based around alternate power sources (particularly when trying to manifest such a 4th-level effect spontaneously, such as via limited wish).


Well, given that we’re comparing an old spell to systems that didn’t exist when it was written, this is going to involve a few assumptions as to how it all works. The biggest one is simply that – as was covered here – “spirits have a reserve of positive energy, and use it to hang onto bodies, and to make them to move and act”.

So: Death Ward operates by shielding that positive energy reserve against negative energy. It thus prevents paralysis and reductions in strength, constitution, or effective level caused by negative energy being introduced into the body as well as a few other things that are noted as being negative energy effects.

Depending on which version is in use in the game the subject is either “immune to all death spells, magical death effects, energy drain, and any negative energy effects” (original SRD) or “gains a +4 morale bonus on saves against all death spells and magical death effects. The subject is granted a save to negate such effects even if one is not normally allowed. The subject is immune to energy drain and any negative energy effects, including channeled negative energy” (Pathfinder). The Pathfinder version is probably better balanced, if only due to being updated.

Unfortunately, what is and what is not a “negative energy effect” is never clearly defined beyond “negative levels” always involving negative energy. Instead it’s simply noted in the description of various individual spells and monster abilities.

I’m not too fond of that decision, but obviously anything which doesn’t directly affect the user is not affected by personal defenses. Additionally, even presuming normal negative energy channeling (instead of, say, an elemental variant), by a strict reading…

  • Censure, which laces Channeling effects with “additional energies”, is not affected by a classical Death Ward, but the Pathfinder version would probably provide it’s saving throw bonus.
  • Conversion, which produces spell effects, is not affected.
  • Damaging, which does divine damage, should not technically be affected. I’d let the Death (or Life) Ward either be effective (most likely) or provide resistance to damaging turning on the basis that I’ve generally classified “divine damage” as either positive or negative energy damage.
  • Fearspeaker is not affected. It’s a mental effect, even if it is powered by negative energy.
  • Touch of the Reaper would be affected. No negative levels need apply!
  • Touch of Annihilation would not be; on the “how this works” level it’s targeting the physical body, not that positive energy reserve – and on the technical wording side Disintegration is not a negative energy effect. I’d let the Pathfinder version of Death Ward provide it’s saving throw bonus though.
  • The Dark Veil is basically a “darkness” effect – which is closely related to negative energy, but isn’t negative energy. I might let Death Ward work anyway, just as a thematic plot element – “and you alone remember!” – but that’s a weak protection versus a very subtle effect and would be more or less a side effect.
  • Nightmare mostly produces darkness spell effects and certainly doesn’t directly target a spirits positive energy reserves. It would be unaffected.
  • Vanishing Shadows could be affected for the same reasons as The Dark Veil – but it really isn’t likely. It’s a higher-level ability and probably has all the raw power it needs to rip through a minor protective side effect.
  • Shadow Realms would be unaffected. Death Ward certainly doesn’t protect your dreams.
  • Seal of Darkness would be affected. That’s direct negative energy damage.
  • Flow of Life would be affected.
  • Aura of Light/Darkness might be affected. It usually doesn’t really affect characters of any reasonable level anyway, but if it’s infliciting a negative energy effect on a character with a Death Ward, it won’t work.
  • Energy Transformation is mostly unaffected, but Death Ward will protect you against the negative energy touch attack.
  • Spiritfire/Banefire will not be affected. It’s generating (or negating) “real” energies, not attacking a creatures positive energy reserves.
  • Living Matrix isn’t affected, and can easily be used to negate a Death Ward.
  • Hand of the (Un-)maker – at least where it affects living creatures – works like Touch of Annihilation, above.
  • Lifeshaping/Plague Mastery targets the physical body with transformation effects, and so is not affected.
  • Smite would lose it’s extra damage, but the bonus to hit would remain.
  • Wrath would be affected.
  • Cleansing/Corruption doesn’t target a spirits energy reserves, but I think that I’d let Pathfinders version provide it’s saving throw bonus.
  • Final Death is a Death effect, and is therefore affected. On the other hand, if you kill something, you can just wait until the Death Ward wears off and then use the Ritual Disposal option to ensure Final Death – so it doesn’t matter all that much.
  • Holy/Unholy Strike would be affected.
  • Death Strike simply says it’s adding damage – but the side effects (and name) make it fairly obvious that it’s a Death Effect. Ergo, it’s affected.
  • The entire Tides of Light and Darkness path is clearly unaffected. Even those effects that do target creatures produce physical effects.
  • Strength/Weakness would be affected.

So, at least until it runs out or someone gets rid of the spell, Death Ward will stop – or at least (if using the Pathfinder version) hinder – ten (about 20% of them) negative energy Channeling options: Damaging, Touch of the Reaper, Seal of Darkness, Flow of Life, Smite, Wrath, Final Death, Holy/Unholy Strike, Death Strike, and Strength/Weakness. A few others will be slightly affected.

That’s annoying for the Channeler in roughly the same way that Wind Wall is annoying to an Archer or Freedom of Movement is annoying to a Grappler – but they’re likely to have a variety of other options available – or to just have a way to get rid of or bypass that Death Ward.

Now I’d recommend using the Pathfinder version or – if using the classical version – putting an upper limit of effect on it. A fourth level spell probably shouldn’t be able to completely shut down Power Word: Kill (even if that’s not really a very good spell for ninth level).

As for shutting down other variations of Channeling… that will vary with the mechanism – but then something as simple as Protection From Energy will seriously hinder an elemental channeler already. so that’s reasonable enough. You just need to be specific about what the spell actually does, and thus how it can be bypassed or negated and what it does and does not affect.

And I hope that helps!


Ponies Versus Physics II – It’s The Great Pony Charlie Brown

And for today’s entry it’s a quick (and rather silly in it’s underlying assumptions) question about the articles on MLP:FIM. It’s…

Who’s the most powerful pony?

The correct answer is “whoever the script has put in that role for this episode”, but I’m going to take it as a physics question, just so I can play with some numbers. Just looking at the Mane Six…

Rainbow Dash can clear a cloudy sky in ten seconds flat.

  • Presuming a basically earthlike planet, clouds are usually seen at altitudes of 6500 to 45,000 feet.
  • The distance to the horizon at 45,000 feet is about 260 miles. Of course, that would be clouds on the horizon – and we’re only interested in those that are substantially above it. That gives us a radius of about 200 miles.
  • Given that this is a pretty crude calculation, I’ll just treat the area as if it was flat to get the volume she’s affecting. That will somewhat reduce the figure for total volume, but it’s going to be absurd anyway.
  • So she’s altering a layer of atmosphere seven miles thick (45,000 feet minus 6500 feet) over a radius of 200 miles. This gives us a total volume of somewhat over 900,000 cubic miles of atmosphere and a total mass of more than 400 trillion tons with a specific heat capacity of .24 BTU/Lb.
  • It wouldn’t be nearly enough, but lets say that it only takes a temperature change of five degrees farenheit to eliminate the clouds (dissipating them will just lead to more forming and transmuting the matter involved gets even more absurd than this will). That will require adding some 192,695,500,800,000,000 BTU’s – or about 200,000,000,000,000,000,000 Joules worth of heat energy to the atmosphere in ten seconds. Ergo Rainbow Dash is putting out 2 x 10 to the 19’th power Joules per second.
  • A one megaton nuclear weapon releases 4.18 x 10 to the 15’th power joules.
  • Rainbow Dash’s energy output would thus equate to nearly 4800 Megatons per second.
  • Earths total global nuclear arsenal is about 7000 megatons. Given that I’ve rounded down on Rainbow Dash in a lot of places, that says equating One Rainbow Dash to One Global Thermonuclear Arsenal per second is just about right.

For comparisons, a hurricane releases about as much energy every day as Rainbow Dash does every 2.6 seconds. The eruption of Mount St Helens came in at about 24 megatons (five millidashes, or her power output for one 200’th of a second), and a supervolcano causing mass extinctions across the earth has a total power output of about 1 Dash over it’s lifetime. A city-destroying, potentially tidal-wave causing, magnitude nine earthquake (remember the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami? 226,000 people dead and millions homeless as multiple cities were devastated? Magnitude 9) releases about 100 megatons worth of energy – about .02 Dashes.

Even if we cut things down to a twenty-mile radius, and thus reduce her power requirements a hundredfold… that’s still 48 megatons per second. similarly, crossing the sky even ONCE while clearing it would call for her traveling forty miles in ten seconds – giving her a cruising speed of mach 20. And she zig-zags around while sky-clearing.

Now it may take a crew of a dozen “normal” pegasi to cover for Rainbow Dash, but that still gives Derpy a power output of at least 5 megatons per second. Perhaps her accidentally destroying the town hall, smashing pillars, and crashing through floors is more plausible than it looked.

Does that make it less surprising for Rainbow Dash to shatter rocks many miles away when performing a sonic rainboom?

And what do these calculations really tell us?

They tell us that the physics of Equestria bears not the slightest resemblance to real physics, that Equestria doesn’t even pay attention to geometry and prospective much less to math, and that any attempt to calculate the capabilities of magical ponies based on earthly physics or assumptions is completely pointless. This is sort of belaboring the point from the first Ponies Versus Physics article, but people keep asking and I rather like calculations, so why not?

You ponies… have POWER. And you don’t even know it. The strength to mold the weather and the seasons. To transmute tons of earth and stone into fruit and living wood. To bring bounty from the wastes. To light the world and bend it to your wills. You GLOW with it. What you radiate without even knowing it… A portion of the power of a single stallion granted our queen strength beyond anything she had ever imagined even as he commanded the guard and sustained a city-wide shield that it took our entire army to break – and HE recovered from weeks of her draining him within an hour. Yes, Queen Chrysalis was drunk with power and mad with jealousy to even THINK of trying to attack you – but couldn’t one or two of you spare a few minutes worth of your power every week or two to feed our species? We’ll be good! Maybe we could do your dusting or something?

-Trotsky Commune, Changeling Scout

For a bonus calculation we can consider Alicorns, and try to see how much they surpass normal ponies.

Shall we presume that Celestia actually moves an Sol-like Star about an Earthlike World?


  • One Solar Mass = 2 x 10 to the 30’th kilograms
  • The average distance from the Earth to the Sun = 150,000,000,000 meters.
  • The daily distance travelled = 2 Pi x R = 942,000,000,000 meters.
  • If the sun went around the earth once every 24 hours, that would be devided by 86,400 seconds per day, giving an “orbital” velocity of about 11,000,000 meters per second.
  • That gives us a Centripetal Acceleration (Velocity Squared/Radius) of about twelve to thirteen gravities – and a generated force of at least 2.4 x 10 to the 32’nd power newtons.
  • Unfortunately, this doesn’t neatly translate to energy. It’s enough force to accelerate the earth (6 x 10 to the 24’th kilograms) at about 40 million meters per second squared – making it approach the speed of light in less than eight seconds – but since it’s always being applied at right angles to the current direction of motion of the sun, there’s no actual change in speed, no work being done, and no energy being expended on the sun itself. If whatever-it-is that’s doing it requires energy (it may or may not) I have no method of calculating that.

But wait! We also see Celestia making the sun “tick” ahead one hours worth of movement in a fraction of a second.

  • That means that the sun starts at a near halt, abruptly reaches a speed of at least 120 x 10 to the 9’th power meters per second (figuring a third of a second for the “tick”), and then comes to a near-halt again. OK, that’s almost four hundred times the speed of light, but that’s still a quanity of kinetic energy that we can calculate if we ignore relativity.
  • Kinetic Energy = 1/2 MVV = 1.44 x 10 to the 52’nd power Joules.
  • Which would be how much energy Celestia would need to generate, and then dissipate again, every time she pulled that trick. That’s about the energy released by 144,000,000 supernova.

What’s bigger? Well, the total barayonic mass of the observable universe is (crudely) estimated at 1.5 x 10 to the 53’rd power kilograms, equating to 1.35 x 10 to the 70’th power Joules – So if Celestia can generate that energy in – say – a tenth of a second, it would still take her almost three billion years to create the observable universe.

Or about one day to create an average galaxy from nothing.

The total mass-energy of the sun is about 1.8 x 10 to the 47’th power Joules. That would mean that Celestia can personally generate and dissipate enough energy to create or destroy some 80,000 suns per second.

When making a star disappear and creating another one nearby and counting on persistence of vision to make it look like it is moving – basically performing stop-motion animation with solar systems – is the EASY way… You know that you have chased the math down a rabbit hole.

Yet Episode One pretty firmly establishes that Celestia and Luna control the day-and-night cycle of Equestria. Perhaps they’re rotating the planet? That would be a lot easier. We can reduce the energy demand even further by stretching the time a bit.

So – over the course of a few seconds – they’re twisting an apparently earthlike planet through a substantial arc (enough to take the sun or moon from too far below the horizon to illuminate it to well above it) and stopping it again.

But rotational inertia is a pretty major thing. The calculation is too crude to bother writing out – but this stunt will still require that Celestia or Luna generate, then dissipate, roughly 2 x 10 to the 35’th power joules (or up to a hundred times that if we go by the “ticking sun” episode). The Gravitational Binding Energy of the Earth is 2 x 10 to the 32’nd power joules – one thousandth of that. The total power output of the sun for a YEAR is 1.2 x 10 to the 34’th power joules. The total amount of energy that the sun provides to the earth each year is 5.5 x 10 to the 24’th power joules.

Thus spinning the planet means that Celestia routinely, over the course of a few seconds twice a day, first puts out and then dissipates enough energy to rip the earth to monoatomic dust hurtling outwards at escape velocity somewhere between a thousand and a hundred thousand times. At a minimum. as much energy as the sun puts out over the course of nearly seventeen years. As much energy as the earth would recieve from the sun in thirty-six billion years. And she apparently exerts such fine control over that power that no one notices any inertial effects.

It’s a LOT more reasonable to simply have Equestria be a rogue planet and have it’s “sun” and “moon” be nearby energy-effects being generated by Celestia and Luna. While that leaves them directly powering the weather, ecology, and tides of Equestria all by themselves, it still reduces the amount of power they need to supply by a factor of ten trillion or so – to a mere 1.5 x 10 to the 22’rd power Joules per day.

But wait! Rainbow Dash could generate 1.7 x 10 to the 24’th Joules per day. She, however, spends a LOT of her time sleeping, eating, and doing other things – cutting down her net power output by at least an order of magnitude and probably by two.

So, according to this theory, Celestia ‘s minimal, casual, continuous power output is roughly equivalent to Rainbow Dash’s peak power output. Depending on her losses and just how casual this is… her peak power output could reasonable be anywhere from ten to a hundred times that of Rainbow Dash.

You know, that’s the most reasonable number that any of these calculations have produced so far. Despite the completely unreasonable method of arriving at that number, I think that I’ll keep that one.

And hopefully that will about do it for this particular topic. What’s the point? It’s simply that it’s a CARTOON. If I pick the right examples… I can “prove” pretty much anything that I want to.

Eclipse and Skills – Paths and Powers 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 – and here’s the last one. Given the quality of writing that’s really too bad!

Ritual Magic: The first of the oft-mentioned skill-based magic systems, Ritual Magic is the simplest, requiring only a single page to denote. As the name suggests, this isn’t “spellcasting” per se, as the text allows for a Spellcraft check to be made to enact a major magical ritual. The key here is that the DC is meant to be astronomical to the point of near-impossibility…unless the PCs can acquire the various special components (which might be rare or even unique) to gain sufficient bonuses. Otherwise, they can try the ritual on their own, but there are penalties for failure (and even side effects on bare-success results), so it’s more likely that they’ll need to go and track down at least some of the ritual components

A subtle extension of this idea is that you can perform minor rituals as well. For these, there’s no real issue of side effects, mostly because the rituals being enacted are too trifling to warrant them (e.g. they have extremely minor game effects). This variability tracks fairly well, albeit not completely perfectly, with the rituals in Legends of High Fantasy.

Eclipse-Style Ritual Magic is a little strange in classical d20 terms, simply because it’s a way to get the players to help design their next series of adventures – so here’s an article on game-mastering them.

Rune Magic: One thing that needs to be made immediately clear is that, despite the name, this magic system has nothing to do with runes per se. Rather, the name is an artifact from this magic system’s original presentation. (Typically, the theme replaces “rune” in the name of the associated skills; so someone taking Rune Magic for healing would list the skills as Healing Casting and Healing Mastery.)

My favorite of the book’s skill-based magic systems, Rune Magic offers an approach to spellcasting that’s not only low-powered, but also limited by theme instead of being “catch-all” the way standard d20 spellcasting is. While it is possible to cast extremely powerful spells via Rune Magic, it’s fairly difficult, as you not only need to have Mana to burn, but you’ll need to have raised your [Rune] Casting and [Rune] Mastery skill bonuses exceptionally high.

Doing so can be rather difficult, since this magic system flat-out disallows skill bonuses from spells, and bonuses from magic items are only at half-effectiveness. There’s a minor point of confusion with that latter rule, however; if a magic item only grants an indirect bonus – e.g. it provides a boost to an ability score, which indirectly bumps up associated skill bonuses – you’ll need to decide if that applies to a Rune skill’s bonus at full value or half-value.

With the possible exceptions of Ritual Magic (q.v.) and Witchcraft (q.v.), this is the go-to for martial characters that just want to “dip” into a magic system. That’s because Rune Magic’s limitations make it relatively cheap to buy up; you just need to raise the bonuses for two skills, and buy some Mana, and you’re set. Even modest cost-cutting measures for those will make it relatively easy to keep a single area of magic – maybe even two – at a level where it can still make a vital role, whether it’s for healing magic, defensive magic, personal enhancement magic, etc.

Rune Magic does get the benefit of indirect bonuses; if your casting is intelligence-based, and you boost your intelligence, that works fine. The theory, of course, is that directly magically boosting the skill(s) you’re using to manipulate magic is likely to “contaminate” the energies you’re working with – making them harder to control. The more powerful your boost, the more trouble it will give you. Thus the rule that direct magical skill boosts don’t work since they’re essentially self-defeating.

The fact that this serves to limit things to avoid having easy temporary boosts or custom items driving Rune Magic through the roof is purely coincidental, trust me on that.

Spell Storing: An expanded set of options for crafting spell completion and spell trigger magic items, Spell Storing offers only a few instances of direct intersection with skills. Interestingly, there’s nothing here about Use Magic Device, which you’d expect to be a large point of notation – presumably that skill already covers all of the basic interactions one could have with items that store spells.

Magical Lore is an upgrade option that’s rather odd, as it builds in the possibility of activating items via a Spellcraft check. I call that odd because, as noted, Use Magic Device already does exactly that. The major benefit here seems to be that Spellcraft is a more common skill, and that the DC is [10 + (2 x spell level)], which is easier than with UMD (usually; a wand with a high-level spell that uses this modifier could conceivably have a higher DC than UMD’s flat DC 20 to activate).

Minor Ritual is the next option after Magical Lore, and requires that a multi-round ritual be enacted to make use of a stored spell. The text notes that this could require “even a skill check” to do. This will require some weighing on the part of the GM to judge exactly what the DC should be, since canny players will be weighing this against the DC of Magical Lore and Use Magic Device. Given the nature of this ritual, the DC will typically be lower – and will very often be for an odd skill, such as Perform (sing) or Sleight of Hand – but will need to be successfully made over several rounds in order to activate.

With Spell Storing the Magical Lore option is there to represent items that anyone with a smattering of magical knowledge can activate, It’s an upgrade for spell storing because it adds a third way to activate an item – and for completeness sake. Basically “can be operated by a spellcaster of a particular type or by someone with specialized skills in working with magical devices”, “and by anyone who knows a fair amount about magic”, “and by anyone who knows the proper little ritual”, and so on up until the point where “it can activate itself according to it’s instructions”.

That’s also why they’re cheap; that allowed some intermediate options to be inserted between the old one-feat-each steps.

Most adventurers are perfectly capable of activating their devices the old-fashioned way, but self-activating stuff can be pretty handy – and the options along the way open up the potential for pretty much anyone – perhaps the local kids? – to meddle with devices that they do not understand and cannot control.

Thaumaturgy/Dweomer: Eclipse describes this as being the form of magic that was used before Vancian-style spellcasting – and psionics – were invented, which is the sort of in-world characterization that fires the imagination. It’s also noted as a rather complicated system for advanced players, which it is; it’s not coincidental that this skill-based magic system has notes at the end outlining the best way to utilize it.

The most difficult aspect of Thaumaturgy/Dweomer is coming up with eight skills (or more, but almost never less) that define different aspects of the chosen theme. Whether that theme is based on the effects or the method by which those effects are enacted is the main difference between thaumaturgy and dweomer, respectively, but that typically makes it no less challenging to invent eight new interrelated skills. Moreover, as the book notes, there should be a careful balance between skills that lend themselves to in-combat uses and out-of-combat uses.

While it’s entirely possible to go in as a dedicated user of Thaumaturgy or Dweomer, GMs can expect some players to try to dabble. Somewhat amusingly, this tends to work better with characters that are already high-end spellcasters, due to it being comparatively cheaper to diversify their existing spellcasting abilities. Since they’ll typically have caster levels that have been specialized in their main progression, it costs only 1 CP per caster level to change that to being corrupted for their main progression and a chosen Thaumaturgy/Dweomer area. They’ll also need to fuel magic used in this way, but – if it’s allowed – that’s often no more expensive than buying Unity, so that they can substitute either spell levels or power (rather than having to use both). And, of course, they’ll need to spend some skill points toward the area in which they’ll be dabbling.

Put all together, that’s not going to be cheap. But presuming that they’re only looking to seriously invest in one or two of the eight areas in a given Thaumaturgy/Dweomer field, it can let them gain some notable versatility to augment their standard spellcasting abilities. Moreover, since it will be drawing from the same source of power as their primary spellcasting (i.e. using spell slots from that progression), it will tend to be self-limiting in terms of how often it’s used.

It is interesting to note that this magic system has proven quite attractive to the engineers and technical types in the local groups; they tend to like the “I have a list of general abilities and effects. What combination can I come up with that will work in this situation?” aspect of it.

Theurgy: The major limitation of Theurgy is the multiplicity of skills involved. While buying up the verbs is not unduly difficult, the sheer number of nouns means that anyone who wants to use this skill-based magic system is going to be forced fairly sharply between being a powerful-but-limited specialist or a (relatively-)weak-but-variable generalist.

The point that most Theurgy-users will quickly fixate on is that, when using complicated spell effects, they can only use their worst noun and verb skills involved. Essentially, that the magical chain of effects they’re weaving together is only as strong as the weakest link. As such, they’ll tend to look for magical effects that are limited to their strongest areas, diversifying their skills only to a certain degree.

To that end, GMs should be wary of players trying to skirt Theurgy’s limitations. While skill boosters or Luck (q.v.) won’t be a problem, attempts to apply Jack-of-All-Trades (q.v.) or Mastery (q.v.) to Theurgy skills should be carefully reviewed. An attempt to buy an Immunity (q.v.) to the inability to apply ability score modifiers to Theurgy skills should virtually never be granted.

Theurgy has – as was somewhat expected – been used by a number of specialists, but the “chaos magic” option has (surprisingly enough) proven fairly popular as well. It has also proven very popular in low-magic settings, where – since you’re never going to have vast power or need to build up your skills to handle high-level spells – versatility is all-important. Of course even a modest chance of spell failure can really (and very literally) hurt when it comes to an adventurers lifestyle – so most Theurgists will want to invest in various boosters. I actually prefer to see Theurgists taking Mastery over Luck; Mastery doesn’t boost your effective upper limits like Luck does; it just makes the stuff that was almost reliable entirely reliable.

It’s actually fairly common in my games for Theurgists to purchase “Augmented Bonus” to add a relevant attribute score to their Theurgy skills. But then I must admit that my games tend to derive a good deal of amusement from freeform spellcasters meddling with things that they are mostly guessing about and unleashing total insanity. How else would one PC manage to short together two vast, opposing, cosmic forces and unleash a blast that transformed his familiars and a random assortment of wild animals into Kaiju (with far too many hit dice to be familiars any longer), entrap everyone in a pocket dimension, turn most of the island they lived on into a magical Chernobyl, and wind up accidentally taking a local kid as a familiar (which was very messy).

OK, he was using Thaumaturgy rather than Theurgy – but trust me, you can screw up just as badly with any kind of freeform magic.

Witchcraft: The low-level versatility of Witchcraft extends to skills as it does to most other areas. Among the twelve basic Witchcraft powers, several grant skill bonuses or penalties directly, typically to those skills that are most directly related to what they can affect.

Witchcraft is, in many ways, my favorite magical system. It’s easily – and to some extent automatically – personalized, relatively subtle and low-powered (unless you create rather narrow specialists), very versatile, has limited range, divides the advanced abilities into individual areas of study, and encourages dabbling since its best used to augment a characters capabilities rather than being the solution to every problem.

I always did prefer the stories of the Gray Mouser, the Mythadventures series, Mary Stewart’s Merlin series, or the “Witch World” books to tales of Doctor Fate or archmagi with vast raw power who made everyone else irrelevant. A handful of known powers used cleverly to solve a problem is – at least to me – more impressive than pulling yet another vastly-powerful high level spell out of a lost spellbook or “the research I did when I last leveled up” to trump said problem with raw magical power.

Elfshot is roughly equivalent to bestow curse for what it can do, including slapping a -6 penalty on a skill check. While the power is cheap to use, it’s rarely worth extending its duration for extra power. That’s because most anti-curse measures (typically remove curse) can overcome it easily. Outside of exceptional circumstances, this is best used for very short-term goals, most typically weakening an enemy in a direct encounter.

Elfshot is actually a great deal less powerful than Bestow Curse – but it’s much more finely focused and it has a bit of range. It can decrease an Attribute by 2 (Bestow Curse can reduce one by 6), penalize a group of checks – perhaps “dexterity based skills” or “attacks” by -6 (Bestow Curse can put a -4 on attack rolls, saves, ability checks, and skill checks all at once – or, since it lets you create your own curse as long as it’s “of similar power”, presumably lets you impose larger penalties on one thing at a time), or “Hinder Activity” (Bestow Curse can simply leave you with only a 50% chance of getting to act each turn). All in all… a well-timed “your horse bolts” can be just as effective as a much more powerful curse if your timing is good.

Glamour allows for a +6 bonus to social skill rolls, and level 0 or level 1 spell effects related to mental manipulation and similar effects. While the text says that you can buy this up to use higher-level spell effects, it doesn’t say that this increases the skill bonus involved. I’d recommend allowing that, since it certainly falls within the scope of what this power allows, probably to +12. But by that same token, I’d also suggest that defenses against mental manipulation negate this bonus.

In general, the skill boosting effects of Witchcraft can be upgraded if you buy access to an upgraded version of the ability that provides them, but that also generally means generating an active effect – the equivalent of more specific boosting spell – rather than just relying on general intent to focus your abilities. That’s still cheap, but tends to be a bit more focused than the general boosts.

Healing grants a +5 bonus on relevant Heal checks when used to gain a day’s worth of healing over the course of one hour. That’s a lesser effect compared to this power’s ability to “throw off the effects of drugs and intoxicants with a flat duration,” but still notable for listed examples such as diseases or toxins. One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that, while it’s easy to assume that this power is limited to the user only, that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case, though that might call for a GM ruling.

Healing is not generally restricted to the Witch – although you could specialize it if you wanted it to be so restricted. And thanks to the power depletion rules for Witchcraft, it’s one of the few healing effects that can exhaust the user, which is a nicely classic feature for low fantasy games.

It can also instantly remove hangovers, which is also a pleasant feature. Who wants to outdrink the barbarian warlord, conclude a treaty while he is drunk but you are not, and suffer no hangover the next day?

The Inner Eye provides a +6 bonus on sensory-perception checks, including for detecting what someone else is thinking or feeling. While a bonus to Sense Motive seems less notable than reading surface thoughts or sharing senses – which the power also says that it can do – the skill bonuses are still a worthwhile boost, since they last for 10 minutes per 1 power spent. They’re essentially the “radar sweep” for thoughts in the area, rather than zeroing in on a single target’s psyche. But make sure not to grant this to everything; enemies with no minds – such as undead, vermin, traps, etc. won’t receive this bonus.

With The Inner Eye… well, that’s why it’s “relevant” checks only. It is well worth noting though; a lot of player tends to just pile all the conditional bonuses together.

Shadowweave plays with light and shadow to grant a +6 bonus to disguise- and stealth-related rolls. That said, be aware that this won’t help you versus non-visual detection. As with Glamour, consider allowing this bonus to be increased if the player buys the advanced version of this ability.

Witchsight grants a +6 bonus to sensory-perception checks, but unlike The Inner Eye it does so by boosting the user’s own senses, and so can work against things like detecting poison by smell or hearing an incoming arrow. Remember that this only affects one sense at a time, however; if you use a skill system that has a consolidated list of sensory skills (e.g. Pathfinder’s Perception skill), then this bonus will only apply to certain rolls, based on how something is being perceived.

Seize the Wandering Soul grants a +6 bonus to Intimidate checks, but only against spirits that you’ve captured. At that point, the bonus to a skill check is minimal compared to the gravity of having imprisoned a bodyless entity! The main use of that will be to better extract short-term bonuses from them, similar to the powers mentioned under the Summoning ability.

Voice of the Dead suffers from much the same conceptual problems as the Channeling (q.v.) power Dark Awakening. While it doesn’t allow for undead to be animated, it does allow for communication with any undead, rather than just ones that you’ve created. The basic issue remains, however; other than mindless undead (which tend to be the weakest), you can communicate with most undead normally anyway. This power says that you can do so “without penalty,” noting that undead have a base attitude of neutral (as per Diplomacy) towards such attempts. Basically, this power means that the undead don’t automatically hate you for being alive.

Voice of the Dead is pretty limited, to the point of near-uselessness (all you really get is the base attitude adjustment), if the game master doesn’t subscribe 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 if the game master doesn’t limit the use of social skills against the undead you can simply skip this one. If he or she does, and you want to be able to socialize with the dead… well, there you go.

Personally, I tend to mix things. Being powered by negative energy mindless undead default to “implacable hostility” unless given other orders, Wights and Shadows and such tend towards the “automation with a list of objectives” side of things, Ghosts tend to be like reasoning with some of the more extreme mental patients (no matter what you’re talking about, or how reasonable they seem… as soon as you depart from their list of priorities, they will loop right back to where they started – which is why they’re ghosts in the first place). Vampires are clever predators and can mask it, but their only real major goal is to obtain blood – and they tend to lose control when confronted with a chance to eat someone or anything else that brings up their “instincts”. Liches tend to be obsessed with whatever goal they had in transcending death in the first place, commonly with a side-order attitude of “go away and bother someone else”.

Of course, that’s just me. I can’t even claim that that’s a standard for Eclipse, and even in my personal games it varies with the setting.

Kinetic Master is essentially the same as the Path of the Dragon (q.v.) power of the same name, save for costing power.

Sadly, the difference between drawing on ambient magic and using your own personal power to do something.

Whisper Step adds a +5 bonus to various movement-based skill checks, due to the use of subconscious minor telekinesis. Consider specializing this power for double effect related to certain circumstances, such as only to negate armor check penalties. If you want to use heavy armor (and don’t care about the speed reduction or the arcane spell failure chance), this is a lot cheaper than buying the Smooth modifier (admittedly, you’ll need to have bought at least 12 CP of Witchcraft powers before you can buy this, but you’re getting something for those).

Weathermonger allows for the weather to be foreseen and manipulated, noting that this grants a +5 to relevant checks. While Survival seems like the obvious skill this would apply to, the text notes that it could apply to something like piloting a ship through a storm. Other options would be “reading the wind” to gain a bonus to Fly checks, though this probably shouldn’t provide a bonus to attacks with ranged weapons.

Weathermonger can certainly be used for Fly checks, and for Profession/Farmer, piloting sailing ships, operating air vehicles, and locating any air leaks that happen to pop up on a space station. You might even be able to counter penalties for making ranged attacks under high wind conditions – but actually getting bonuses would call for spending some power on active manipulations; passive effects can only counter penalties. There’s no reason why you couldn’t extend your range with a tailwind or try to correct the course of a long shot though.

Incidentally the Changes TrilogyThe Devil’s Children, Heartsease, and The Weathermonger by Peter Dickinson – are generally classified as “young adult” novels, but do present an interesting vision of a modern nation abruptly abandoning technology to return to a slightly magical version of the middle ages.

That really isn’t too relevant, but it IS why this ability is called “Weathermonger”, just in case anyone was wondering.

Darksense allows the user to “see” the air around him, albeit only in terms of disturbances. This essentially presents problems similar to Blind-Fight’s (q.v.) Sense of Perception modifier. Since this one is explicitly based around sensing the movement of the air, creatures might still make a Hide check to be able to defeat it via staying extremely still (gargoyles are especially famous for this).

Darksense is MUCH more limited than the Sense of Perception – which is not as important as it might be in a comparison because it cuts down on the information-overload problem. It’s very good in combat though.

Aegis allows for a character to be recover as though under the care of someone with 10 ranks in the Heal skill. If you want to be notable for quickly recovering from a particular condition, this is easily specialized to only apply to something like poison or disease. Since this power can be used even while unconscious, it’s a great excuse for why characters who manage to escape with terrible wounds might survive and come back later…of course, that’s not usually a problem anyway in worlds with healing and resurrection magic.

Aegis, of course, is a general palliative – and a fairly high-end protection against Poisons and Disease since you effectively get a second save at +10 to resist such things – and can simply pay to be rid of it if both the save and the check fail. Like many Witchcraft abilities, it’s subtle, but really quite effective. In low magic settings it can even be impressively powerful, with an 80% chance each round to provide First Aid, an 80% chance every ten minutes to remove movement penalties for foot injuries, an 80% daily chance to gain the benefits of long-term care,and  a near-certainty of getting some extra daily healing if you fight very often via “treat deadly wounds”.

Sure, a good physician can provide those benefits too, and magical or psionic healing is far more powerful if it’s available – but there is something to be said for “automatic, all the time”.


As noted at the beginning of this article, these are only some limited examples of how Eclipse can revitalize skills in your d20 game. The plethora of options available via variations, specializing and/or corrupting, spell options that produce skill-based effects, and the Immunity (q.v.) power are just a few of the ways that you can come up with virtually anything else you can imagine, albeit subject to the GM’s oversight.

Skills should be more than just an afterthought for your characters, and with Eclipse they can be.

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.


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.

Eclipse and Skills – Abilities Part I

Alzrius wrote an excellent – and very lengthy – article on Eclipse and Skills, which got a similarly lengthy response. Given how awkward that is to read, Alzrius has kindly given permission to republish his original article and the responses broken up into more manageable bits. Given that this segment turned out to be nearly 16,000 words long once the commentary was added, it’s been broken up as well.

Here is where we examine the meat of what Eclipse can do for your character’s skills. As noted above, this is only a sampling of what you can potentially do. Variants, along with specializing and/or corrupting abilities, can lead to all sorts of possibilities beyond what’s listed here.

One of the oft-overlooked strengths of Eclipse as a whole is that it allows for multiple ways to achieve a given effect, oftentimes for different costs. This is because, as a modular toolkit for building characters, it’s expected that some options will be modified or even outright banned for various campaigns. Most of the time, you won’t have all options in the book “on the table,” hence page 197.

Acrobatics: This ability lets you make a single skill check (the one with the highest DC) when performing several physical stunts. Although the text doesn’t say so, this is typically going to be limited to what you can do in a round. So if you to move quickly across a tightrope (effectively DC 25; actually DC 20 with a -5 penalty for moving your full speed), then leap over a 15-foot alleyway (DC 15), and over the head of an enemy on the snow-covered roof on the other side without provoking an attack of opportunity (DC 30; actually DC 25 +5 for an icy surface), you’d only need to make that last check.

The benefit here is obvious; only having to make one roll cuts down on your failure chances, since unless you have your skill bonuses high enough to succeed even on a roll of 1, multiple checks means multiple attempts to get a critically low roll and fail before completing the sequence of actions. However, there’s another aspect to this that needs to be taken into account:

The benefit that this ability accords a character is based on two different factors: how many different skills it consolidates, and what bonus the character has in the one skill that’s used (e.g. the one with the highest DC in the sequence). Because of these, the value of this ability will fluctuate depending on the skill list being used in the campaign (which isn’t very surprising; all abilities will have their relative worth vary according to the details of the campaign).

In the sequence of events described above, for example, using a skill list based on 3.0, 3.5, or d20 Modern would mean that the skill checks required would be (respectively) a Balance check, followed by a Jump check, followed by a Tumble check. Moreover, this would only be helpful (in the above situation) if you had a decent bonus in Tumble, as that has the highest DC. If you put more ranks into Balance or Jump, you’d essentially be negating those skills…which has the interesting effect of making you look for ways to increase the DC, so that you can use your highest skill bonus on the unified roll.

But in Pathfinder, all of those would be made with a single skill (which, ironically, is also called Acrobatics) anyway, meaning that you’d be using the same bonus each time. (Note that, in this case, the DC for moving through the enemy’s threatened square would be 5 + their CMD, and so it might not be the highest DC, not that that matters here.) So this ability is far less useful in a game that uses Pathfinder skills… though it’s still helpful to only have to make one check rather than three.

For some extra fun, combine Acrobatics with some effects that increase your movement rate and the Split Movement ability, making your character’s combat options much more cinematic. Throw in the Lightfoot modifier to this ability, along with Mana with Reality Editing, and you’ll effectively be a wuxia fighter.

Acrobatics has two additional benefits; since it cuts down on the number of skill rolls involved, it means that you only need one use of Luck or a big skill boosting effect to pull off some insane stunt – and it means that your checks are all a part of your main action. In theory you could add “while being sneaky about it” to add a Stealth skill check into every stunt – and since Stealth has an open-ended “DC” always use Stealth – but I encourage GM’s to penalize people attempting this sort of exploit.

Secondarily, making only one check is still pretty handy even if your odds of failing are quite low. If your stunt would call for rolls of 3+, 3+, 2+, 4+, and 8+… With Acrobatics you have a 65% chance. Simply rolling, it’s a 42.5% chance.

If a setting makes Acrobatics less useful by combining a bunch of skills… you can always just Corrupt or Specialize Acrobatics to be only usable with a modest set of skills, bringing it’s price down to match.

Finally, given that variations are explicitly allowed… I suppose you could use a variant that combines a set of linked nonphysical skill checks too. Go ahead, call it “hacking” and have your cyberpunk character combine Computer, Knowledge/The Net, Research, and whatever technical knowledge applies to extract some evil mega-corporations research on some topic (perhaps who’s been hacking their computers?) with a single roll. Does the process for creating an artifact call for you to personally mine and smelt the magical metal, forge the item, engrave it with magical runes, and consecrate it? Don’t want to make Profession/Miner, Craft/Metal Purification, Craft/Smithcraft, Craft/Engraving, Knowledge / Arcana, Spellcraft, and Knowledge / Religion checks today? Take “Master Enchanter” and skip everything but that (admittedly very high DC) Spellcraft check!

Action Hero: This has multiple options, each of which can affect your skills.

Heroism can be applied to skill checks, but compared to options such as Luck (q.v.), it’s hard to dedicate a limited resource like Action Points to doing so. Essentially, most skill checks won’t be critically important to the point of needing to bump them up with an Action Point instead of just re-rolling or taking a natural 20 the way Luck lets you. That said, if you’re extremely skill-focused, consider specializing this ability in skills only for double effect. That, together with Luck and some skill booster options, can get your checks up to truly stratospheric levels.

Stunt has no need to be talked up. Being able to temporarily grant yourself an ability you didn’t have before is universally applicable. Just buy one of the other abilities listed here when you really need it, presuming you can get it for 6 CP (remember, a lot of abilities are universal, and so can often be specialized to apply only to skills, either for half-cost or double effect, depending on how expensive they are).

Crafting is a bit of a head-scratcher. It says that it lets a character “with the appropriate skills and abilities” expend Action Points to overlook time and XP costs involved with crafting things (you still need to pay the relevant GP costs, however). The ambiguity comes from whether or not you still need to make the actual check(s) involved. The implication here is that you do – the point of this ability is to get around the downtime requirements involved in crafting, and so craft on the go – but on the other hand it’s awkward to think that a bad check result could see you wasting potentially lots of Action Points, which are a limited resource to begin with. Personally, if the player is willing to spend the APs on a big crafting project, I’d say that substituted for a successful check.

Invention allows a character to essentially transcend the skill system altogether. Creating entire new technologies is usually beyond what any particular skill check can do. Someone else who uses your new technology might need to make a skill check to do so, presuming that they can at all; it’s entirely possible that the skill in question doesn’t exist or is extremely restricted, depending on how many Action Points you paid to allow the technology to spread.

Influence strikes a balance between the previous two options. Like Crafting, it dovetails with a particular type of skills, in this case social skills. But like Invention, it lets you largely move beyond what they’re capable of. Most social skill checks are for short-term favors or conversations, often with strict limits on what you can get an NPC to do for you. With Influence, you can spend Action Points to move beyond that, without needing to make a skill roll. In fact, you technically don’t need any bonuses in any social skills at all to use this ability, perhaps reflecting something like bribery, blackmail, or other forms of influence beyond being diplomatic or deceptive.

When it comes to Action Hero I fully agree; Heroism really isn’t the best option, even if you spend the extra 6 CP to get a free boost once per day. Like a number of other things in Eclipse it’s in there for back-compatibility – although it can still be pretty handy in “realistic” (low magic/psionics/etc) games , wherein it may be the best general booster you can get (and can serve as – at least – a Specialization on other abilities that will call for the expenditure of an Action Point). Still, I usually allow better options in most of my games. I LIKE magic.

Stunt, of course, is one of the big “save my neck (and Part II)” powers – whether you need a moment of Immunity to Vorpal Weapons, a “natural” 20 on a save, a quick Feather Fall, or whatever, Stunt can get it for you. If you happen to be in a high lethality game don’t go without it.

To clear up one question… Crafting does not need a roll; it costs AP to complete projects – not to simply get a chance to complete them, and any project that failed would not be completed. (Besides… Pathfinders “make a roll instead of paying experience points” notion was introduced well after Eclipse was written – and isn’t all that well thought out; it can be abused in a LOT of ways and completely breaks the game if there are a few years between adventures. I suppose it could be used as a corruption, but I wouldn’t really recommend it). The requirement for the appropriate skills and abilities is to keep low-level types from potentially producing very high end items just because they have a few levels worth of points saved up and to make sure that items that required particular skills or racial types to make continued to do so.

Invention and Influence both serve a similar purpose. They provide a limited downtime resource and a way of spending it narratively (for more Narrative Powers look HERE). That way it can be used by those who take an interest in influencing the setting while avoiding soaking up too much game time (and boring those who aren’t interested) while still pushing user’s to adventure and gain more levels. Essentially it’s a patch for the disconnection between timescales. Adventuring usually occurs in minutes, hours, and days. Realistic downtime activities usually occur in weeks, months, and years.

So which is better? Spend three months training the army, and another to build field fortifications and reinforce the guard patrols at the passes – or for the party to go on forty to sixty adventures, pick up ten or fifteen levels, and simply take over the enemy kingdom with raw, personal, power?

It’s pretty obviously the adventuring. After all, that’s what the game is about and picking up ten or fifteen levels means that you can now pretty much ignore little things like “armies”.

Yet if you speed up downtime enough to make it a meaningful activity in comparison to adventuring as Pathfinder does it tends to suddenly become a font of near-limitless funds and influence – as the recent writeup for Halphax so clearly shows.

Ergo the use of dedicated, level-based but otherwise non-recovering, Action Point pools. You can do downtime stuff, and you can do it fast enough to make it effective in “adventuring time” – but you can only do so much of it before you have to get back to the adventuring.

Adaptation: This is the ability to take if you want to avoid skill (and other) penalties from being in a hostile environment. It won’t negate any damaging or lethal effects, but if you’re spending a lot of time in a place that’s requiring skill checks where none would normally be called for (e.g. checks to avoid losing your balance in an arctic environment), or penalties to checks that you want to pump up, use this.

In all likelihood, however, you won’t need to purchase this directly, simply because most games either aren’t primarily set in such a hostile environment, or will supply a method to overcome it if they are (e.g. you’re playing a race that has this ability as part of their racial traits). If you need this ability in the short-term, using something like Action Hero/Stunt in order to pick it up (if you can’t use something else, such as a spell, to achieve a similar effect).

Adaption, of course, is mostly there for character flavor. Your dread pirate captain is likely to have it for being on board a ship simply because it fits his theme. It also, of course, represents a player vote; if he or she has taken Adaption for a character, then he or she wants to spend some time in that environment – and the game master should oblige on occasion. Let the spotlight to shine on the dread pirate captains nautical skills and expertise. Maybe next week it will be the turn of the wilderness ranger, as he guides the group through the perils of Skull Island in search of the hidden temple.

Adept: Eclipse openly states that this ability is one of the most powerful in the book, and it’s right to do so. Being able to buy skill ranks at half-price, for four skills no less, may not sound very strong, but it is. Essentially, you’re taking around 80 CP worth of skills, and paying 6 CP to be able to buy them for 40 CP instead. That’s well over a levels’ worth of savings! You’ve now freed up a tremendous amount of CPs that can be spent elsewhere, which is where this ability’s value comes from.

To make things really crazy, buy Adept along with Fast Learner (q.v.), with the latter specialized for double effect/only for skill points, and corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for Adept skills. You’ve now paid 10 CP, and in return the four chosen skills will automatically max themselves out at each level. That’s 10 CPs spent for 80 CPs’ worth of skills. GMs be warned if you see your players abusing this trick.

Adept is in there because – as you have already pointed out – most classical d20 characters wind up with a handful of “must have” combat-related skills maxed out and (if any skill points are left over) a few points spent on semi-random things for characterization. Making skills really important in the game calls for either drastically upgrading what they can do in comparison with magic (or psionics or whatever you call the settings favored version of reality-bending) or for greatly reducing their cost – or for a little of both. Ergo, Adept and Augmented Bonus to make them cheaper and/or increase their bonuses, Occult Skill allows the easy introduction of more powerful skills, and Acrobatics and various other options allow you to make your existing skills far more effective. I did indeed want to make skills mean something again.

Assistant: Using the “aid another” action is one of the least “sexy” actions you can take, since you’re essentially giving up your turn to make someone else slightly better at something. There’s even a check involved in doing so, albeit one that’s so low that it’s essentially a pro forma thing.

Paying 6 CP to double your bonus isn’t really that attractive of an option either. Really, the only way to make this worthwhile is if you increased the bonus. Insofar as skills are concerned, specializing this to apply only to skill checks means that (if you pay the full CP) you can double the effect, so you’ve changed the +4 bonus into a +8 one, which is a lot more attractive. Corrupt it to apply only to a single skill, and that rises to an astonishing +12 when you aid another on that skill! (Every other aid another check you make will still be for a +2 bonus, though.)

This is part of the real usefulness of this ability (more for GMs than players): it has the power to turn someone into a mcguffin. Why does the Dark One want to kidnap the Radiant Princess so badly? Well, because she has this ability, specialized and corrupted as described above for Spellcraft, and then specialized again (normally a big red flag, but in this case useful as a plot device) to only apply to the Occult Ritual (q.v.) of Awaken the Primordial Devourer. So he if can snatch her and force her compliance, she’ll grant him a +24 on his check to perform the ritual and bring the evil god back to life! Boom, there’s an adventure seed right there.

Assistant (at least as something to have in your party in its basic form) is generally best taken BY assistants. You give it to your familiar, or to an actual assistant or have your friendly bard bestow it temporarily. I have seen a few characters combining it with Opportunist to let them help out without giving up an action to “pay” for it though. That lets them be the helpful guy or wise mentor who gives useful advice even while they’re fighting or doing something else – and being able to hand out a +4 bonus at whim can be quite a lot of help to a party.

Come to think of it, combining that with a familiar or two could get you quite a boost to pretty much everything you did. Another possible character to write up there…

Augmented Bonus: Like Adept (q.v.), this is one of the strongest abilities in Eclipse, letting you add a second attribute modifier to something. The text is fairly clear about how this affects skills, as the basic ability allows for adding to a skill or set of skills (e.g. adding your Wisdom bonus to Intelligence-based skills).

The far stronger use of this ability, however, is if you can take the Improved and Advanced modifiers so that you can apply this to your skill points per level. If you have a high attribute bonus, along with a high Intelligence, you can potentially gain huge allotments of skill points at each level for free! Given all of the other things you can do with skills in Eclipse, that’s a major reason for GMs to keep a close eye on this ability (which the text says to do anyway).

An interesting twist to adding a second attribute to your skill points per level is that this makes stat-boosting items for that ability score grant additional skill ranks, the same way Int-boosters do.

With Augmented Bonus… if you throw in a second attribute modifier for skill points per level, the two permitted instances of Adept, and Fast Learner Specialized in Skills, you can fairly readily get at least ten skill points per level (effectively fourteen with Adept) from then on – and you’ll have plenty of points available each level to buy skill boosters, luck, and access occult skills. It won’t be “UNLIMITED POOOWWEERRR!” but you can definitely be Batman, and compete with the primary spellcasters much more effectively than most skill monkeys.

Berserker: As amusing as it is to consider, there’s no reason why you couldn’t take Berserker with regards to skills. The short-term nature of this ability means that you won’t be able to use it for long-term projects, and it might be hard to thematically justify using this power for mental skills (e.g. Knowledge checks), but there’s no reason why you couldn’t “hulk out” with regards to a physical skill such as climbing or jumping.

For a particularly useful way to apply this to a skill, tie it to Martial Arts (q.v.). Doing so immediately grants you several bonus abilities, and can represent a “second wind” or (more amusingly) you having a sudden flashback to a lesson that your master taught you that just so happens to be perfectly applicable to your current situation.

Berserker does indeed work just fine for skills. Why not tune in, drop out, and “Channel the Cosmic All” (add to Int, Specialized for Double Effect/only affects Skills, Corrupted/Knowledge Skills Only, 4 CP)? Go ahead. See All and Know All (or at least a lot more than usual) for a mere handful of points. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone use Berserker for Martial Arts Master Flashbacks before though. That’s a very amusing notion!

More practically, there’s no reason why you can’t employ Berserker to represent almost any kind of focus on a task or short-lived boost. Do crime scenes throw you into a deductive trance that greatly boosts your perception and deductive abilities? Can you draw on a burst of dark power (caster levels and your primary casting attribute) to lend your magic greater power in an emergency? Can you channel the essence of stone to boost your damage reduction? Why not?

Blessing: Another ability that lets you sacrifice in favor of someone else, Blessing is surprisingly versatile as written, since it doesn’t seem to require that it be tied to any particular ability when you take it. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have very many limitations at all (which means that you can add those in by specializing and/or corrupting the ability to increase its effects or save on its price).

One way to put this to good use regarding skills is to grant other party members ranks in your Hide/Move Silently (or similar) skills, neatly solving the perennial problem of having a heavily armored character try to sneak past some guards, where a failure gets the entire party caught. Just remember that you lose those ranks while you do so.

Blessing often does sacrifice for others. Having an NPC doing it makes a good plot device; perhaps a once-legendary but now old and crippled adventurer lends out some of his old talents to some youngsters who can make use of them on a quest (and hopefully pick up enough skills of their own to continue their careers after the old master dies), or the powerful priest who cannot intervene for political reasons gives some deniable agents some boosts – but more limited versions for sharing particular abilities with others is also very handy. Player characters will want the version that affects multiple targets if the game master lets them get away with it – and from there they can just include themselves. Now the entire party can sneak, or sail “under your command”, or whatever.

Hm. You could also use Blessing to loan out sub-aspects of Blessing – giving other people the power to loan you specific skills. You could thus simply take some Contacts and rent a needed skill for a few days – or take Leadership and borrow a few skills from your collection of experts. It would be a bit of a strange build, but a merchant lord who simply rents the powers and abilities he needs could be a rather interesting character – or encounter.

For a few items with more specialized skill-related aspects that weren’t originally discussed…

  • Celerity with Additional Movement Modes does provide the usual +8 bonus to relevant checks for having the movement mode. So if you pick up Flight, or a Swim speed or some such, there’s a nice little skill bonus that comes with it.
  • Companions can grant all kinds of weird bonuses, (and MORE and MORE) including skills and upgrades thereof. You can also play weird games with giving your Companion a Template and then taking Transform – but your game master may or may not let you get away with that. Even if he or she doesn’t though… some forms come with fairly useful skill bonuses of their own. How about a “Cat Burglar” with two or three Companions – perhaps a Cat, a Raccoon, and a Falcon – and Transform?
  • Contacts won’t do anything for YOUR skills, but are often useful when you want to access a skill that no one in the party wants to buy. Master Forgers and such will often be NPC’s.
  • Create Relic can be used to boost skills – but then Relics can be used access virtually any ability, so we’d just be referring to other abilities anyway.
  • Domain/Path Metaspells often call for skill checks for effective use, but that’s not really a skill modifier; just an additional application.

Device Use: This ability doesn’t seem to have much purpose besides negating the need for Use Magic Device checks. Presumably it exists for those usage requirements that a UMD score can’t bypass, regardless of your check result, but anything that stringent probably wouldn’t allow for this ability to work either. You should probably only take this if there’s a category of items you think you’ll want to use with some degree of regularity, but can’t normally activate, and can’t take ranks in UMD…that’s pretty freaking specific, though.

About the only other use for this ability I can see is to package it into a racial build, where your race counts as another for the purposes of activating a particular item. Normally, counting as a member of another race would be something I’d set to Privilege, but activating a category of magic items – with no other modifiers or considerations – might be slightly beyond that.

Device Use isn’t as general as Use Magic Device even if you take something like “Wizard Items” (like the Magic Domain) – but it does have it’s advantages. It’s quite reliable even at low levels, it doesn’t have that annoying clause about rolling ones, and you don’t have to know what to emulate. Still, where it mostly turns up is in non-caster builds. For an example, take Device Use (Wands, 6 CP), a bit of Mana with Reality Editing (Specialized and Corrupted/only to allow the user to trigger a wand without using a charge, a minor edit costing 2 Mana, 4 Mana, 2 CP) and Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses (Specialized and Corrupted/only to recharge the user’s wand-triggering pool, 4 CP). Now invest in some cheap one-charge wands (or spend a third feat-equivalent to get some Innate Enchantment) and you can pull out a couple of decent spells for each fight. Use Magic Device is still better once you put on a few levels of course, but it’s also a somewhat bigger investment in the end. If you already have access to a lot of items (say you’re a cleric or a mage) the savings may be well worth the slight loss of versatility.

Now, if the GM is incredibly stupid very generous and you want to make the Wizards and Sorcerers cry… Take:

  • 3d6 Mana, Specialized and Corrupted / only for powering magical staves (6 CP)
  • Rite of Chi with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted / only for Mana, only to refill the “powering staves” pool above (6 CP).
  • Empowerment, Specialized in Staves for Unlimited Use (6 CP).
  • Siddhisyoga with Inner Whispers. Specialized / staves only (6 CP).

Now use Siddhisyoga to buy yourself a Storm Stave (CL 15. Control Weather (3 Charges), Chain Lightning or Empowered Lightning Bolt (2 Charges), and Solid Fog or Sleet Storm (1 Charge), 114,375 GP) – but with only one charge. That’s a mere 4575 GP even after doubling the cost for Siddhisyoga.

If you really want to be obnoxious, buy yourself an upgraded Stipend (12 CP) at level one (for a starting wealth total of 12,000 GP) and a total buy-in cost for this mess of 36 CP. Now buy yourself some more one-charge staves – perhaps Healing for 1110 GP (CL8, Lesser Restoration or Cure Serious Wounds for 1 Charge, Remove Blindness/Deafness for 2 Charges, Cure Disease for 3), Frost for 2250 (CL10, Ice storm or Wall of ice for 1 Charge, Cone of Cold for 2 charges), and Illusion(CL13, Disguise self, Mirror image, or Major image for 1 charge, Rainbow pattern or Persistent Image for 2 charges, and Mislead for 3 charges) for 2600. That leaves you with 1465 GP to buy regular equipment with.

It will take another six months to save up t0 add a Staff of Passage (CL17, Dimension Door or Passwall for 1 Charge, Phase Door, Greater Teleport, or Astral Projection for 2 Charges), but why not?

Now don’t ever use a charge if you can possibly avoid it. Just power them with Mana. That gives your first level character an average of 32 “charges” per day to spend. Go forth my Master of Staves, and destroy both your enemies and all pretense of game balance! Go up a few levels and buy more Mana and Staves and Bonus uses on Rite of Chi and show those primary spellcasters who’s the big boss of magic!

With a relatively small additional investment of CP for more mana / bonus uses for rite of chi, and a little more money for more staves (which, with Siddhisyoga, you can upgrade in caster level freely)… you can easily have caster level twenty, both arcane and divine spells of up to level nine, more total levels of spells available than a 20’th level sorcerer, far more “spells known” than that sorcerer (or any wizard who doesn’t have near-limitless funds), and all the fun and freedom of slot-free spontaneous spellcasting with a readily expandable spell list by the mid-levels if not earlier.

Yeah. Don’t let characters do that. It’s not as bad as level one Pun-Pun, but it would be just about as destructive to your normal game.

Enthusiast: Gaining 1 Character Point that can be reallocated every 72 hours doesn’t seem like a big deal (especially when you can’t spend this on specific knowledges (q.v.)), but here’s something interesting: notice the note on Create Artifact about how, for 1 skill point, you can know the “recipe” for how to make a unique magic item. Well, go ahead and use Enthusiast for that, and voila; the skill point that keeps on giving!

Beyond that, it works for several other quirks as well; skill specialties and negating untrained penalties are both great ways to reallocate where this 1 CP applies. And that’s without adding the Double modifier, let alone specializing it for something like skills.

Enthusiast is handy for adding little tweaks to things isn’t it? Picking up the local language, or a specialty in the local culture, or a spell formula, or some contacts, or any of quite a few other little things specific to your current needs, can be very helpful.

For Spell Formula it would probably be best to insist that anyone picking up one pick up two with a Specialization (the formula is too unstable or something to be recorded or put into a scroll) instead. Otherwise spell research becomes a quick and trivial thing.

Executive: This is the much more plausible way, compared to Blessing (q.v.), to grant skill bonuses to other people under your direction; at the very least, it can work on multiple individuals at once, and doesn’t require that you give up anything (save for an action to direct them). Interestingly, you don’t need to have any ranks in the skill that you’re providing a bonus to. So maybe you can’t actually Stealth at all, but by god you can help everyone else do it better!

What’s more notable here is that you can grant a bonus to all skill rolls devoted to accomplishing a particular task, rather than just a single roll. So if you’re coaching someone through catburglary 101, this will help with picking locks, disabling traps, hiding in shadows, etc. Naturally, you can specialize this for double effect if you restrict it to a particular skill.

The CEO modifier can apply this bonus to a large number of individuals, particularly if you purchase it more than once. It’s difficult to comprehend how you could apply such a skill bonus to several hundred, or even thousand, people working on concert; what exactly would they be doing in the first place? Maybe some sort of large-scale crafting project, or everyone is performing a spontaneously-synchronized dance number.

Executive allows characters to enhance entire organizations – although admittedly the large-scale modifiers are really only at their best when you have an equally large-scale task. Still, if you’re building a fortification, or directing the guards in searching or defending a city, or some such… giving a couple of thousand guards a +10 bonus on Spot, Listen, and Sense Motive when watching for spies and attackers and a +5 to Attacks and Damage when actively fighting against them isn’t bad at all. After all, they have to be working towards the same overall goal – not necessarily all be performing the same task. Thus if you’re building a pyramid, or founding a town, or building a mighty ship… there are people quarrying stone, people shipping it, people hauling it, people making mortar, building ramps, making rope, and a hundred other tasks – including drawing up the plans. Go ahead; give a big bonus to everyone involved.

It still may not be something most player characters want very often, but that’s what minions are for.

Finesse: This ability lets you swap out one ability score modifier for another in a particular regard, such as using your Wisdom modifier for your Charisma-based skills. The advanced version functions for something more common, such as the attribute that grants you your skill points per level.

This ability has costs that are largely commensurate with Augmented Bonus (q.v.), which begs the question as to why anyone would take this instead of that. The answer – leaving aside the aforementioned caveat that not all abilities will necessarily be available in any given game – is that there might be situations where you don’t want a particular ability score’s modifier to apply anymore. If you have an ability score so low that it provides a penalty, rather than a bonus, it makes more sense to swap it out for another ability score, rather than bring in another ability score’s bonus alongside it.

Finesse is pretty straightforward – although it’s also perfectly possible to combine it with Augmented Bonus. That way you can add your two best ability modifiers to something instead of one good one plus one bad one – at least in some situations. Occasionally you may just want to shift to an ability score that easier to boost.

Guises: This ability exists largely to make the Disguise skill relevant in a world of magic. While using mundane disguises has long been a clever way of fooling abilities based purely around defeating magic disguises (e.g. true seeing), that only goes so far.

This ability, with its modifiers, covers a quite a range of mechanical effects. The basic effect, along with the Cultural modifier, target background details, essentially paying for the privilege of overlooking those issues. The Racial and Quick Change modifiers get into the uses of the Disguise skill, eliminating the penalty for disguising yourself as a different race, and using the Disguise skill as a move action rather than requiring tens of minutes, respectively. (I’d personally eschew the Racial modifier in favor of an Immunity (q.v.) to several of those minor penalties to Disguise, such as for race, sex, age, etc.)

It’s with the Mental Guise and Split Persona modifiers that this ability thoroughly transcends the mundane. The former defeats most magic that would penetrate your disguise, while the latter actually lets you move your skill points around when disguised (though only a little). This can be quite powerful if your disguise has exotic or unusual skills, such as a Martial Art (q.v.).

It can be fun to specialize Guises for Increased Effect (perhaps it takes a day or so to get into a role) and trade around 20% of your skill points. Immunities will work too of course – thus the magical girls with an immunity to anyone associating their real and costumed identities – but game masters may not always allow immunities. Few of them have objections to Guises though.

Hysteria: It’s easy to see Hysteria as a version of Berserker (q.v.) that grants less of a bonus and requires you to fuel it with magic or ability damage. However, Hysteria lets you apply its bonus to something different each time, so long as it fits with your chosen theme (e.g. magical, physical, or mental). To that end, skills are a viable choice, as the text itself notes. So this can fuel a concentration check to maintain a spell or your ranks in a particular magic skill (e.g. a particular Thaumaturgy, q.v.) if you’ve chosen magic, for example.

Hysteria, of course, is in there to represent driving yourself past all normal limits. Do you want to be Rock Lee from Naruto and drastically boost your power by opening the “gates” and taking damage? Have the ability to channel a tidal wave of emotion into your magic and overwhelm someone who should – in theory – be a stronger mage? Then Hysteria is the power you want to be holding in reserve.

You can just buy it without restrictions and treat it as a tactical option of course, but that’s not nearly as much fun.

Immunity: Although it doesn’t look it at first glance, Immunity is one of the most versatile abilities in Eclipse, albeit one that requires more permission from the GM to use. With regard to skills, Immunity can let you potentially ignore various restrictions on the skill system itself. For example, you might have a character that’s immune to the limits of the Heal skill, or even immune to having to use a more-restrictive skill list in favor of a more consolidated one!

On Immunity, I still rather like the Truenamer variant or the Martial Artist (the same fellow with the condensed skill list mentioned above) who is using much the same trick when it comes to modifying skills. Buying the ability to temporarily expend skill points to produce magical effects can easily cover super martial artists, sages, and any other magical type with powers based on taking a skill beyond all mortal limits. Still, there are a LOT of ways to modify skills with Immunities. Exceed the normal limits, use them for direct spellcasting, or protect yourself from various effects by buying skill-dependent immunities. It’s worth remembering though that skills can be used in any fashion that the game master is willing to accept without any special abilities at all – and that the game master may opt to apply rules like the Synergies and Skill Benefits section of this post.

Inherent Spell: It’s easy to overlook this one in terms of what it can do for skill-based abilities. While lower-level spells that provide a modest boost to skills are probably better off being used with Innate Enchantment (q.v.), consider using Inherent Spell with a larger “bang for your buck” spell. Such a thing is typically going to be a spell that only applies a competence bonus to one skill in particular (see the “(Skill) Mastery (Various)” spell template in The Practical Enchanter, p. 14). Being able to use a mid-to-high level version of such a spell just a few times a day can, if set for a single skill, provide a serious magical boost.

If picking one skill is too narrow, try and take the greater invocation spell (The Practical Enchanter, p. 176). Limiting it to skill-based competence bonuses will let you make any version of a spell from the aforementioned spell template up to one spell level below the greater invocation spell, allowing for a huge degree of versatility.

Innate Enchantment: Innate Enchantments are typically used for unlimited-use use-activated spell effects, which makes anything above a 1st-level spell tend to be prohibitively expensive. As such, these are best used for buying some low-level skill boosting spells off of the various spell templates in The Practical Enchanter.

Of course, there are various abilities that nicely complement what’s here, allowing you to maximize the applicability of skill boosts taken this way. Empowerment can be taken to bump up the caster level (since you’ll need to have set it to 1 due to pricing issues). The Amplify Metamagic Theorem, typically bundled with sufficient Streamline to cover whatever effect you want and specialized and corrupted to only apply to skill-based Innate Enchantments, can increase the base effects heavily. And of course, if you can purchase an Immunity (q.v.) to your Innate Enchantments being dispelled, countered, or subject to antimagic, that effectively makes them extraordinary abilities, and so they’ll apply even to things like Rune Magic (q.v.).

Innate Enchantment is the go-to ability for picking up a pile of small bonuses isn’t it? Still, like most of the “you can use a spell or spell effect” abilities in Eclipse it isn’t limited to existing spells, so there’s no reason not to get some interesting skill-modifying effects. The Trickster Mage package has a few of those, but there are lots of other possibilities.

Innate Magic: This is one of the abilities that seems to get passed over a lot, since it not only requires 6 CP to buy, but requires that you give up a spell slot to be able to convert the effect into a supernatural or spell-like ability, with various restrictions on the uses per day and level of the spell so sacrificed. It’s not a bad idea if there’s a particularly flashy spell that you use so regularly that you want to have it always be available, but for skill-boosting magic, it’s usually going to be better to use one of the previous methods mentioned, such as Inherent Spell (q.v.). While that might seem more expensive, it doesn’t require you to already have spellcasting abilities to give up (which are, ultimately, a much larger CP cost to buy).

As far as Innate Magic goes… I don’t use it in very many builds. I tend to favor versatility over being able to spam particular effects – and so do most of my players. I suppose that comes of trying to present a wide mix of problems. I do keep meaning to use it to build a shapeshifter or blaster or other specialist, but I keep thinking of cheaper ways to do it – which probably means that it’s overpriced for it’s actual intended use. On the other hand, a high-level spellcaster would probably find spending 6 CP to convert a ninth-level slot into Wish as a spell-like ability twice a day more than worthwhile, simply because spell-like abilities need no material or experience components. Even worse, they could take Mighty Greater Invocation two times to get an 11’th level slot to convert to 7 free Wishes per day (Hello inherent bonuses!) – for which it’s probably underpriced. For a corner case… even at lower levels it might be worth it for something like Stoneskin, or if you wanted to go crazy with Fire Trap spells or Forcecage. Unfortunately, Innate Magic is pretty close to being the only Eclipse ability that still gives me the feeling that “there MUST be a better way to do that!” even now.

I still can’t think of one though. If someone does, please leave a comment!

Jack-of-All-Trades: Being able to gain an across-the-board +1 (or +2, if you buy the greater version) untyped bonus to all skills linked to a particular attribute isn’t bad at all for a potential skill monkey character. But this ability’s real draw is the Universal modifier, which essentially makes it so that you can use any skill (so long as it’s on the campaign’s normal skill list) untrained. If you’re getting massive bonuses to all skill checks, or even a large category of them, from some combination of abilities, that’s a must-have.

Jack-of-All-Trades has been popular locally as “Well Read” (Jack-of-All-Trades Specialized in Knowledge Skills Only (3 CP), plus Universal, Specialized and Corrupted (Int based Skills, Knowledge Skills only, 2 CP) and throwing in a good Intelligence and some generic skill boosts – and so winding up with a +10 or so in all Knowledge Skills for a comparative handful of points that you were mostly going to spend on generic skill boosters anyway. Given that my games tend to be very information-heavy, that’s often well worthwhile in them. It does get disallowed in some of the more open-ended settings. For example, in the Federation-Apocalypse setting, which uses a potentially unlimited selection of define-your-own skills, you can’t simply be good with EVERYTHING.

On the other hand, if you are using the Variable Skill Costs system, the bonus would be modified by the skill costs as usual for skill-enhancing feats. That could make the user pretty good at pretty much all the rarely-used skills.

Journeyman: The ability to raise the level-cap to which you may buy a particular ability, even if only slightly, can potentially be a powerful ability. But in terms of raising the skill cap, there’s comparatively little reason to do so. Unless you’re trying to gain quicker access to something like the Epic Stunts modifier of Skill Focus (q.v.), there’s really no reason not to just buy other abilities that can grant bonuses, rather than raising the limit on how many ranks you can purchase.

Journeyman is pretty niche when it comes to skills. If there was one skill that you just HAD to push as far as possible you could get a Specialized and Corrupted version focusing on that particular skill for triple effect – but there are very few builds that are THAT dependent on a particular skill. The old Truenamer used to be – but Immunity provided a much better way to make Truenamers anyway. I suppose that it would work for a Rune Mage as well – but if you really want a specialist in Rune Magic taking something like the Ancient One template is probably a far better way to go about it.

In combination with the variable skill cost rules you could build extreme specialists at fairly low levels though – which is a plausible way to create master forgers or something should the characters ever need one