Eclipse and Skills

January 28, 2017

I’ve said many times before how much I enjoy Eclipse: The Codex Persona (along with its “sister” books The Practical Enchanter, Paths of Power, and Legends of High Fantasy). To my mind, it’s nothing less than the culmination of the “options, not restrictions” credo that was the hallmark of the d20 System. Even other point-buy character generation systems can’t match the flexibility and creativity that Eclipse allows for.

Nowhere is this more evident, to my mind, than with how it reinvigorates the use of skills for d20 characters. For class-based characters, skills tend to be little more than an afterthought; something to be noted only for what little combat-related mechanics they have, directly or indirectly. Most often, they’re used only for detecting ambushes (and, more rarely, clues) via sensory skills, getting hints about monster abilities via knowledge skills, and making useful items via crafting skills (oh, and bards using performance skills for a few of their powers).

Everything else is extremely vestigial, to the point where they’re taken for little more than personal flavor reasons. That’s not inherently bad, of course; “personal flavor” is another term for “role-playing,” after all. But it’s a shame that they can’t also be more useful at the same time. When you only have so many skills points, you shouldn’t need to choose between putting them in skills that are flavorful, and those that are actually useful.

Normally I’d make some example characters to show off a particular application of Eclipse, but in this case I’m going to take a page out of KrackoThunder’s book and overview various abilities directly. What follows isn’t meant to be comprehensive, if only because Eclipse allows for its abilities to be altered, modified, and changed in myriad ways to suit a player’s needs for their character(s). A given ability might require more Character Points than you have at your current level, but in all likelihood it’s not going to be impossible to make.

Part 0: The Skill System

While Eclipse is focused on decoupling various class-level groupings of abilities, there’s absolutely no reason why this can’t be done for the skill system itself in an Eclipse-based game. While there’s no reason why you can’t just make use of an existing skill system from 3.5, Pathfinder, or any other d20 System, it’s worth examining what other options are available so as to better tailor the kind of game you want to run.

This is an area that’s distinct from a particular character’s progression. While various abilities give characters the ability to interact with a given skill system in a different way, the way that skills (normally) work is distinct unto itself. Consider the following:

What skills are available? First and foremost, consider what skills are actually available for characters to take. There’s quite a few available, ranging from 3.0 to 3.5 to Pathfinder to d20 Modern to Thoth’s condensed skill list. Even the D&D Fifth Edition skill list could be used! Note that you can put things that would normally be Occult Skills (q.v.) on the standard skill list if they’re fairly common in a particular campaign. If magic items and magic shops are everywhere, to the point of being everyday facts of life, then it might make sense for Craft (precepts) to be a normal skill on the campaign’s skill list.

What to do about class/cross-class skills? Even if you go with a standard skill list, the question of “class” and “cross-class” skills are impossible to ignore when using a classless character generator. Eclipse addresses this (p. 9) with two recommendations: 1) that every character start off with 12-18 “relevant” (e.g. class) skills based on their character’s theme (but notes that skill-based characters “often” have more), and 2) that spending 6 CP to buy ranks in an “irrelevant” (e.g. cross-class) skill makes it into a class skill.

Even here, there are some judgment calls that need to be made. For one thing, when deciding how many relevant skills a character will have, you’ll need to address skills that have sub-skills. For example, can a character have Knowledge as a relevant skill, or are Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (dungeoneering), Knowledge (engineering), etc. each a separate skill, some of which might be relevant for them while others aren’t?

What other specifics does the skill system use? Will it allow for maximum ranks equal to character level across the board, or will it allow for (level +3) for relevant skills and (level +3)/2 for irrelevant skills? Will 1 CP purchase 1 rank for all skills, or will it purchase 1 rank for relevant skills and 1/2 rank for irrelevant skills? Do characters gain quadruple (or even some other) number of skill points on things that grant bonus skill points at 1st level? Do certain skills grant skill synergies when you have enough ranks? Do ranks in all skills cost an equal number of CPs to purchase, or are some skills more expensive than others?

What Eclipse tweaks will you use, if any? Finally, consider some of the other options listed on pages 9-10 of Eclipse. Will you include skill specialties (note that this is different from “specialization”), where 1 skill point is worth a +3 bonus on a particular application of a skill (e.g. a +3 bonus to making swords with Craft (weapons))? What about specific knowledges, where somewhere from 1 to 3 skill points (depending on the knowledge in question) is worth a +15 bonus regarding an extremely specific subject (e.g. a single type of monster, such as the dryad, rather than all fey)? Or “unfamiliarity” penalties to untrained skills, which can be bought off for several skills with 1 skill point? These (and the few others listed there) can all help to offer interesting tweaks to how skills work in your campaign.

Remember that, with Eclipse, a skill’s “total bonus/score” is a measure of not just the bonus derived from ranks, but from ALL non-magical permanent modifiers. So your ability score modifier, bonuses from abilities like Professional (q.v.) or Skill Emphasis (q.v.), Pathfinder’s +3 to relevant skills that you have ranks in, etc. all count towards that.

Part 1: Drawbacks

Not all modifications to how a character uses their skills will necessarily be positive. Some of the disadvantages (pg. 18-20) are either skill-specific, or can be made to apply to skills and skill checks.

Remember, disadvantages that don’t cause any trouble for a character are not worth any CPs. While it’s natural for a character to try and work around their flaws, the point of that is that those flaws come up, in order to be worked around, in the first place. Taking penalties to your Swim skill is worthwhile in a temperate setting that has a coastline; it won’t earn you anything on a desert world.

Accursed: This is the “catch-all” disadvantage, and can be applied in a variety of creative ways. Consider taking it so that skill and ability checks automatically fail on a natural 1 (without automatically succeeding on a natural 20), possibly with the caveat that you can’t re-roll such a result (e.g. with Luck, q.v.).

Blocked: While the text for this disadvantage says that it’s typically used for things like a particular magical school or racial ability, you could take it so that you’re completely cut off from one particular skill, automatically failing checks made with it. This would be the disadvantage to take if your character couldn’t swim, for example.

Illiterate: This disadvantage has a special cost, separate from the pricing guidelines for other disadvantages. While this disadvantage technically should stop a character from purchasing any skills related to reading (e.g. Decipher Script, Forgery, etc.), it’s interesting to consider allowing a character to purchase ranks in those skills in anticipation of eventually buying off this disadvantage (and automatically failing all such checks until they do so). Such a character would essentially undergo an extreme, almost savant-like “awakening” to their new area of knowledge.

Incompetent: You take a -5 penalty to one skill in particular, or -3 to any group of skills that are related to a particular theme. This seems like a less-bad version of what you could get with Blocked (q.v.), which makes it awkward that they’re worth the same amount of CPs for taking them. The reason for this is that, unlike with Blocked (or Inept, q.v.), the GM selects which skill(s) this is applied to. Whereas a player is going to want to put their disadvantages where they feel their impact the least, a GM is far less likely to be so inclined (and will usually do just the opposite).

Inept: You take a -2 penalty to all skills that are keyed to a particular ability score modifier. Notice that neither Strength nor Constitution are available as modifiers for this disadvantage, nicely avoiding what would otherwise be an easy way around this particular disadvantage. While it doesn’t explicitly say so, I’d recommend applying this to ability checks that use the linked ability score as well.

Unlike many other skill-related disadvantages, Inept has the potential of hitting a character where it hurts later on in their career. Thanks to all of the potential new skills that can be accessed via Eclipse, it’s entirely possible for this to apply to something like Martial Arts (q.v.) or Rune Magic (q.v.) that end up being based on the linked ability score.

Outcast: While this doesn’t refer to skills directly, I’d recommend that this cause massive penalties on social skill rolls with members of the affected group. Possibly even automatic failure on such checks. Exceptions might exist with regards to who doesn’t shun/hate/fear you, but these will be designated by the GM.

Poor Reputation: While this looks similar to Outcast (q.v.), there are several important differences that need to be noted. The first is that this one has a static, defined penalty, which means that you can overcome it if you raise your bonuses high enough on your social skills. That’s to be expected; if you work long enough, hard enough to counter your poor reputation, you’ll probably succeed eventually.

Also, keep in mind that being an Outcast is likely due to you being subject to some sort of institutional prejudice, whereas having a Poor Reputation is typically due to something that you’ve (purportedly) done. As such, this disadvantage will likely follow you around; if you want to get someplace where your reputation hasn’t reached yet, you’ll likely need to work hard – after all, if you can get there, so can other people who’ve heard about you.

And of course, this disadvantage calls out that your associates will also take a penalty for associating with you. A canny GM won’t forget to bring that up.

Showman: While the initiative penalty is the most immediate concern, remember that this grants anyone looking into your current activities a +3 bonus. That might not seem very high, but it’s essentially a reminder that you can’t help draw attention to yourself. You’re the person that other people’s – including your enemies’ – Gather Information checks will be about.

Uncivilized: While this disadvantage’s description notes that you’re essentially from a tribe that hasn’t developed complex cultural, social, economic, or other institutions, this is really more of a “fish out of water” disadvantage. The key to remember is that this isn’t just about things being different, but rather that other societies are operating along principles that your own hasn’t discovered yet. This means that if your civilization hasn’t discovered magic, or only has a primitive type of magic, you’ll take penalties to skill checks to use magic such as Theurgy (q.v.) or Thaumaturgy/Dweomer (q.v.).

Unluck: Despite what the text says here, I doubt that it’s intended to make you automatically fail skill or ability checks on a natural 2, since you don’t fail those on a natural 1. If you want that to apply, consider taking the Accursed (q.v.) disadvantage as well.

Untrustworthy: Similar to other “social penalty” disadvantages, this is likely to hit you hard on skill checks within its scope. The difference between this and other such disadvantages is that your penalties apply only to issues of trustworthiness. You might automatically fail Bluff checks, or example, but you’ll have no problem paying for healing at the local church.

Vows: It’s interesting to note that this disadvantage openly admits that it can work in your favor, with a +3 bonus (or -3 where appropriate) versus something that would make you break your vows. This doesn’t negate the restrictive nature of your Vows, nor the penalty you’ll take for breaking them, but it’s still worth leveraging where you can. For example, if you’ve taken a Vow of silence, you’ll probably be taking penalties to most social interaction skill checks, but you’ll gain a +3 bonus on saving throws against spells or other abilities that would compel you to speak.

Part 2: Abilities

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.

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.

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).

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 two-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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.).

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.

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!

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 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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”).

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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 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!

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.

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.).

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).

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.

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).

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.

 Part 3: Paths and Powers

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:

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.

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.

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.

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 rules 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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Kinetic Master notes that animating 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.).

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 is the main difference between thaumaturgy and dweomer, respectively, but that typically makes it no less easy 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.

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.

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.

Elfshot is roughly equivlant 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 bodiless 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.

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

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.

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).

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.

Conclusion

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.

From Dusk Til…Dusk

January 1, 2017

Sonata Dusk has lived an interesting life.

Born a Siren in Equestria, she and her sisters Adagio and Aria were long ago banished to Earth by the great pony wizard, Star-Swirl the Bearded. Living as humans there, they managed to retain a low profile for a long time, stewing in their frustration at having their powers stunted by Earth’s magic-poor nature. Without sufficient magic, they had no way to enchant others to shower them with the adoration that they knew they inherently deserved.

It was purely by chance that they noticed the presence of Equestrian magic in the battle that Twilight Sparkle and her friends fought against Sunset Shimmer. But that was enough for them to hatch a plan to regain their full powers, eventually succeeding only to be near-immediately defeated again. That seemed like the end of the Sirens’ story, consigning them to an eternity of mundane drudgery on Earth, but something happened that no one could have predicted…

The three sisters somehow found themselves transported to the world of Everglow.

How exactly it happened remains unclear. Sonata remembers meeting an unknown pony on Earth – a dull-grey mare – who offered to restore their powers and transfer them to a world almost as magic-rich as Equestria, which she and her sisters eagerly accepted. But the identity of their benefactor is a mystery that she’s never felt was important enough to think back on, let alone solve.

What mattered to her was that, once on Everglow, Sonata and her sisters immediately returned to their old tricks. But a familiar face turned up to stop them; although Twilight had different friends with her this time, the result was the same, with the Sirens being defeated yet again.

For Sonata, that was enough. Renouncing her sisters (she’d never liked them very much anyway), she decided to try living in a way that didn’t make everybody want to stop them all the time. For a creature that wanted to be adored more than anything, the constant string of defeats was a pretty clear sign that they were doing it wrong.

That breakthrough had a profound effect on her, changing her from her original body (which she and her sisters had regained once they’d transferred to Everglow) into that of a pony. Precisely what precipitated that change was indeterminate, but was largely attributed to some sort of lingering mutability due to the body-altering side effects of the transfer between dimensions. Either way, Sonata was stoked by her new form, and started making a new life for herself, trying to learn about how to get people to like her without having to force them.

It was shortly thereafter that she met the unicorn Lex Legis.

Thrown together by happenstance, both of them were shocked when they began to develop feelings for each other over the course of their adventures. By the time they returned to Equestria, things between them had grown into a full-blown romance. Shortly thereafter, Lex took the western third of Equestria for his own, renaming it Legesia, and the two were wed as king and queen.

Current Sketch

Waifu 4 Laifu.

Waifu 4 Laifu.

Currently, Sonata is happier than she’s ever been. Her life is one of luxury, she’s still head-over-hooves in love with her new husband, and the public absolutely adores her. Everything is perfect, and she has no intention of letting anyone or anything disrupt that.

To that end, she’s almost as active socially as her husband is politically. While she does help him with very important negotiations and public addresses – he uses a message cantrip to transmit his words to her, and she parses them into more manageable and empathetic language, e.g. using her Diplomacy score rather than his – she spends a great deal of her time singing. From fundraising concerts to public rallies to private parties for important nobles and visiting dignitaries, Sonata’s voice has proven time and again to be the grease for the wheels of government that Lex has constructed.

Of course, it’s not very surprising that she’s been so effective, since she’s enchanting her audience.

Although she knows that Lex would be furious if he knew, Sonata regularly uses the magic of her voice to sway people so that they feel positively towards her husband and his regime. As far as she’s concerned, this is only fair, since most ponies simply can’t seem to appreciate the scope of his reforms; she’s heard plenty of them badmouth him for instituting taxes and regulations, but none of them seem to praise him for using that money to lay down a new series of brick roads or opening new schools. To Sonata, using some magic to help Lex get the recognition she feels he deserves is an act of love.

To that end, Sonata has no sympathy for those that she thinks are trying to ruin the happiness she’s found. Those who threaten her husband or her home will find that, in contrast to her usual sunny disposition, she’s capable of great cruelty. Although she respects the laws that Lex has made, if she feels that breaking them is necessary, she won’t hesitate to do so in order to protect everything she’s gained.

Sonata Dusk, Level 9 Enchantress

Naturally enough, Sonata’s stats are made with Eclipse: The Codex Persona, a d20 supplement that allows for point-buy character-generation.

Unique Race: Altered Siren (31 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Adept, specialized for one-half cost/only for Perform (sing) and Swim (3 CP).
  • Attribute Shift/-2 Int, +2 Cha (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for one-half cost/only for skills, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for Adept skills (2 CP).
  • Adaptation/underwater (6 CP).
  • +2 bonus to Swim checks (2 CP).
  • +3 bonus to Perform (sing) checks, specialized for double effect/only for Mystic Artist (3 CP).
  • Immunity to aging (uncommon/minor/great) (6 CP).
  • Privilege/being treated as fey versus type-based effects (3 CP).
  • Being a quadruped grants +10 movement speed, +50% carrying capacity, and +4 on checks to avoid being tripped. This is balanced against minor penalties (much smaller than normal for quadrupedal creatures): their ring and hand magic item slots are combined (as anklets), and they are only considered to have a single hand for wielding/holding things – that being their mouth; this does not prevent comprehensible speech or interfere with verbal spell components (no cost).

Having been born as a (hippocampus-like) Siren, spending centuries on Earth as a human, and finally becoming a pony after arriving on Everglow, Sonata’s racial characteristics are now a muddle of all three. She has a human’s skillfulness, applied to a Siren’s specialties, with a pony body.

Available Character Points: 240 (level 9 base) + 10 (disadvantages) + 30 (levels 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 feats) + 6 (starting traits) = 286 CP.

Sonata’s disadvantages are Foolish (she has trouble with concepts like “consequences” and “learning from experience.” Lex is helping her to offset this somewhat via the Mentor ability; see below), History (the events of Rainbow Rocks), and Inept (all Intelligence-based skills).

Ability Scores (20-point buy):

Ability Scores Initial Scores (point cost) Racial Bonuses Level Bonuses Items Total
Strength 10 (0) 10 (+0)
Constitution 12 (2) +2 +2 belt 16 (+3)
Dexterity 12 (2) 12 (+1)
Intelligence 10 (0) -2 8 (-1)
Wisdom 13 (3) +1 (8th level) 14 (+2)
Charisma 17 (13) +2 +1 (4th level) +4 headband 24 (+7)

Sonata uses the Pathfinder package deal. This gives her an additional +2 to an ability score (applied to her Constitution) and her “favored class bonus” has been put into hit points.

Basic Abilities (93 CP)

  • Proficient with simple weapons and light armor (6 CP).
  • 9d6 Hit Dice (18 CP).
  • +6 BAB, corrupted for two-thirds cost/no iterative attacks (24 CP).
  • Fort +6, Ref +3, Will +6 (45 CP).
  • 0 skill points (0 CP).

She’s an (Evil) Enchantress (95 CP)

  • 9 caster levels, specialized for one-half cost/wizard progression only (27 CP).
  • 9 wizard progression levels (Charisma-based; arcane magic; components and studies (spontaneous casting) limitations), specialized for one-half cost/only spells with the mind-affecting or sonic descriptors are on her spell list (49 CP).
  • Immunity to charm effects (common/major/major), this grants immunity to charm effects of 5th level or below, and a +6 bonus on saves versus those of higher levels (6 CP).
  • Shaping, specialized for increased effect/only works for level 0 wizard spells on her spell list, corrupted for two-thirds cost/must be free to gesture and speak (4 CP).
  • Easy metamagic modifier, specialized for one-half cost/only for material and somatic components (3 CP).
  • Streamline, specialized for double effect/only for the Easy metamagic modifier (6 CP).

Since Sonata uses the restrained limitation with her magic progression, set to limit her to a list of spells known, it’s necessary to list what specific spells she has. Ergo, her spells known are listed above. Note that she only treats sorcerer/wizard spells with either the mind-affecting or sonic descriptors as being on her spell list; this affects what spell trigger or spell completion magic items she can use.

For the spells listed above, those not in the SRD are hyperlinked to their source. However, trying to assign her twelve 0-level spells turned out to be rather difficult, since there simply aren’t that many sorcerer/wizard cantrips that have one of those two descriptors! As such, I had to reach further afield. She has two spells from the hedge wizard list (consider them to be arcane variants, since that’s a unique spell list), and one from the 3.5 Spell Compendium. One is from the SRD, and another is from an obscure Pathfinder supplement.

The last seven are new spells, listed below:

Backup Performers

Enchantment (Charm) [language-dependent, mind-affecting]

Level bard 0, sorcerer/wizard 0

Components V, S

Casting Time one standard action

Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)

Target one creature/level

Duration 1 min./level

Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

Creatures enchanted by this spell gain insight as to how to sing and dance in such a way as to enhance someone else’s performance. For the duration of the spell, they gain a +2 bonus on Perform (dance or sing) checks made to aid another.

 

Earworm

Enchantment (Compulsion) [mind-affecting]

Level bard 0, sorcerer/wizard 0

Components V

Casting Time one standard action

Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)

Target one creature

Duration 1 minute

Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

When casting this spell, you sing, hum, whistle, or otherwise vocalize a tune as part of the spell’s casting. If the target creature fails its saving throw, this tune then becomes stuck in their head, becoming a mild distraction that causes a -1 penalty on skill and ability checks.

 

Enchant Instruments

Transmutation [sonic]

Level bard 0, sorcerer/wizard 0

Components V, S

Casting Time one standard action

Range touch

Target one instrument touched/level

Duration 10 min./level (D)

Saving Throw none (object); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

When this spell is cast, the touched instruments begin to play themselves. The tune played can be adjusted by the caster as a free action. This accompaniment is of basic quality, and grants any musical-based Perform check a +1 circumstance bonus, even if the instruments are of masterwork quality. Damaged or substandard instruments still apply any penalties that they would normally impose.

 

Instrumentality

Transmutation [sonic]

Level bard 0, sorcerer/wizard 0

Components V, S

Casting Time one standard action

Range touch

Target object touched (see below)

Duration 1 min./level

Saving Throw none; Spell resistance no

This spell allows a touched object to serve as an improvised musical instrument, with no penalty for its improvised nature. This spell may work on a small group of objects if they’re all being used together as a single instrument. For example, this spell can be cast on a knife, fork, and metal bowl, allowing them to function together as a drum.

 

Know Performance (Various)

Enchantment (Charm) [mind-affecting]

Level bard 0, sorcerer/wizard 0

Components V, S

Casting Time one standard action

Range touch

Target creature touched

Duration 10 minutes

Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

There are many different kinds of know performance spells, each one specific to a different type of performance. The recipient receives a +15 bonus to the relevant Perform check when making that particular performance. For example, a version of this spell keyed to the song The Ballad of Barnaby Bramble would receive a +15 bonus when making a Perform (sing) check to sing that song, but not for any other Perform check, including other instances of Perform (sing). The bonus received from this spell does not stack with any other skill bonuses the character might have in Perform, including ranks, synergy bonuses, Skill Focus, spells or magic items, etc. However, bonuses from ability score modifiers, masterwork items used in conjunction with the performance, and circumstance bonuses still apply. Penalties of all types still apply as normal.

 

Lend Assistance

Enchantment (Charm) [mind-affecting]

Level bard 0, sorcerer/wizard 0

Components V, S

Casting Time one standard action

Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)

Target one creature

Duration 1 minute

Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

You grant the target creature the ability to provide helpful assistance where it normally wouldn’t be able to do so. For the spell’s duration, it can make aid another attempts with trained-only skills that it has no ranks in. This does not help with skill checks for tasks that take longer than the spell’s duration (unless you can extend this spell to last as long as the period of time that the skill check covers), or allow aid another checks to be made for skill checks that cannot normally receive them. At the GM’s discretion, certain skills may be too alien for this skill to assist with (e.g. Occult Skills).

 

Rearrange Voice

Transmutation [sonic]

Level bard 0, sorcerer/wizard 0

Components V, S

Casting Time one standard action

Range touch

Target creature touched

Duration 10 min./level (D)

Saving Throw Fort negates; Spell Resistance yes

This spell causes a touched creature’s voice to change, allowing the caster to set it to anything from a squeaky soprano to a sepulchral bass. The determination is made when the spell is cast, and cannot be changed thereafter. This spell merely changes the recipient’s vocal range; it cannot be used to make them sound like someone else, though the altered voice does grant a +2 circumstance bonus to Disguise checks.

Alluring Voice (77 CP)

  • Mystic Artist (6 CP) with Amplification x3 (18 CP), Echoes (6 CP), Enduring (x10 modifier) (12 CP), Projection (6 CP), Rapid (6 CP).
    • Inspiration abilities: emotion, competence, greatness, mass greatness, mass excellence.
    • Manipulation abilities: hold audience.
    • Synergy abilities: block, amplify, harmonize (emotion and hold audience), serenity.
  • The Path of Whispers modifier: Subliminal (6 CP).
  • Art of the Occult modifier: The Hidden Way (6 CP).
  • The Celebrated Way modifier: Fame (6 CP).
  • Traceless/magic, specialized for one-half cost/only for Mystic Artist abilities (3 CP).
  • Skill Focus/+1 Perform (sing) (2 CP).

When she sings, Sonata’s Mystic Artist abilities make the magic she brings to bear virtually impossible to notice. The use of Subliminal, The Hidden Way, and Traceless allow for Sonata to use myriad abilities – including casting spells – during a performance without anyone being the wiser for it, even if they use detection magic.

Even without using spells, Sonata’s abilities allow her to manipulate her audience on a grand scale. She’ll typically utilize her emotion and hold audience powers to remind everyone of everything Lex has done for his country, with Echoes making that take effect the next time someone speaks ill of him or his accomplishments. And of course, Fame guarantees her access to the upper strata of society both in Legesia and Equestria (on top of her privilege; see below).

Monarch Among Social Butterflies (21 CP)

  • Mentor (6 CP).
  • Finesse/use Charisma for skill points per level (12 CP).
  • Privilege/nascent queen (3 CP).

Sonata’s mentor is, as mentioned previously, Lex. Although the queen of a country would normally have Major Privilege, Sonata still acts more like a pop idol than newly-minted royalty, eschewing formality and ranks in favor of having a good time.

Gear

  • Headband of alluring Charisma +4 (headband). 16,000 gp.
  • Chain shirt +3 (armor). 9,250 gp.
  • Ring of protection +2 (ring/hand). 8,000 gp.
  • Amulet of natural armor +1 (neck). 2,000 gp
  • Belt of mighty constitution +2 (belt). 4,000 gp.
  • Cloak of resistance +2 (shoulders). 4,000 gp.
  • Necklace of fireballs type II (slotless). 2,700 gp.
  • Pearl of the sirins (slotless). Free.
  • 50 gp.

Sonata’s gear was purchased for her by Lex, over the course of several trips to Everglow. As he was worried about her, he focused on defensive magic items, though he did bring her a few that would enhance her abilities. Her necklace of fireballs is meant to be used as a last-ditch weapon. Similarly, her pearl of the sirins was a wedding gift to her from Lex, and came out of his gear value rather than hers.

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 6 (d6; 1st level) + 28 (8d6) + 27 (Con bonus) + 9 (“favored class bonus”) = 70 hp.
  • Speed: 40 ft.
  • Alignment: Chaotic Neutral.
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +6 (base) +3 (Con bonus) +2 resistance (cloak) = +11.
    • Ref: +3 (base) +2 (Dex bonus) +2 resistance (cloak) = +7.
    • Will: +6 (base) +2 (Wis bonus) +2 resistance (cloak) = +10.
  • Armor class: 10 (base) +2 (Dex bonus) +7 armor (chain shirt +3) +2 deflection (ring of protection) +1 natural armor (amulet) = 22, touch 14, flat-footed 20.
  • Attacks: +6 (BAB) +0 (Str bonus) = +6 touch.
  • Ranged Attacks: +6 (BAB) +2 (Dex bonus) = +8 ranged touch.
  • Combat Maneuver Bonus: +6 (BAB) +0 (Str bonus) = +6 CMB.
  • Combat Maneuver Defense: 10 (base) +6 (BAB) +0 (Str bonus) +2 (Dex bonus) +2 (ring) = 20 CMD (24 vs. trip).
  • Skills: 45 skill points (Cha bonus) + 9 skill points (Fast Learner; only for Perform (sing) and Swim at half-cost each).
Skills Ranks Ability Modifier Class Bonus Misc. Modifier Total
Appraise 9* -1 Int +3 -2 disadvantage +9
Bluff 9* +7 Cha +3 +19
Diplomacy 9 +7 Cha +3 +19
Perception 9 +2 Wis +3 +14
Perform (sing) 9 +7 Cha +3 +6 racial (Mystic Artist only), +1 Skill Focus +20 (+26 with Mystic Artist)
Perform (dance) 9 +7 Cha +3 +19
Sense Motive 9** +2 Wis +3 +10 (+18 to sense enchantments)
Spellcraft 9 -1 Int +3 -2 disadvantage +9
Swim 9 +0 Str +3 +2 racial +14

Sonata’s class skills are Acrobatics, Appraise, Bluff, Craft, Diplomacy, Disguise, Intimidate, Perception, Perform, Profession, Sense Motive, Spellcraft, Survival, Swim. As the above table indicates, she’s only taken ranks in a few of these.

*Because Sonata gains skill points from Charisma, rather than Intelligence, Charisma-boosting items such as her headband of alluring Charisma +4 grant her additional skill ranks. In this case, the additional ranks are for Appraise and Bluff.

**5 skill ranks purchased normally, the other 4 are specialized for double effect; only to detect if someone is under an enchantment.

Further Development

Sonata is vaguely aware that her powers aren’t good for all situations. While she knows that she can beguile enemies and support allies with her magic – and function to a great degree in watery environments – she’s fully aware that outside of these situations she’s relatively powerless. When facing off against creatures that are mindless or not vulnerable to enchantments, she has very few options open to her. Likewise, a single silence spell can severely curtail what she can do.

Despite this, Sonata has little desire to try and diversify her powers; even with Lex’s mentoring, she simply gains experience too slowly (thanks to her Foolish disadvantage) to make that feel worthwhile. She instead prefers to surround herself with protectors and allies that can cover her weaknesses should a fight break out. These are typically some of her husband’s retinue.

Beyond that, Sonata’s only ambition is to protect her current status quo. Although she worries about Lex’s continued striving to raise his power to new heights, she’s determined to stay by his side no matter what. Those who try to change that will find her preparing their funeral dirge.

Relic: Palindromic Agimat

November 25, 2016

One of the breaks from D&D tradition that Third Edition made – a break that has since become standard – was the loss of reversible spells.

Reversible spells were those spells that could be prepared “backwards,” allowing you to use a spell effect that was the opposite of what the normal spell would be. If you had haste in your spellbook, for instance, then you could choose to prepare it backwards, which meant that you were preparing slow instead. You could only make that choice when preparing the spell (spontaneous conversion wouldn’t be a thing until Third Edition, though I’m sure there were a few isolated instances of it out there before then), essentially meaning that there were certain spells that, when you acquired them, gave you a “buy one get one free” bonus.

It’s not that hard to see why Third Edition dumped reversible spells (though I admit I’m just speculating about the designers’ motives). They had no real bonus to offer clerics, druids, and other spellcasters who could already prepare their spells from their entire spell list. For wizards and other spellcasters who needed a spellbook, reversible spells saved a few gp on acquiring and inscribing the second spell, but that was so minor that few groups ever even bothered to track that.

Really, the only group that would get a lot of mileage out of reversible spells are sorcerers and other spontaneous spellcasters. Since they don’t prepare spells, the only way that they’d be able to use reversible spells is to let them decide whether they’re using the normal or reversed form whenever they cast a spell. Essentially, a spontaneous spellcaster that knows a reversible spell gets an extra “spell known” for no cost.

I honestly don’t think that’s such a big deal, but given how much the designers saw fit to limit sorcerers (e.g. making them wait an extra character level to reach new spell levels, having metamagic’d spells require a full-round action to cast, etc.), they clearly thought otherwise. In other words, reversible spells were almost certainly judged to be more hassle than they were worth, and so were discarded.

Personally, I think that’s a loss. Given how little flavor D&D spellcasting has (just try explaining what a “resistance bonus” is from an in-game standpoint, let alone how it applies to all “saving throws”), the idea of reversible spells struck me as very thematic. It alluded to an idea from classical occultism, which was that you could reverse a magical effect by reciting its incantation backwards. Having D&D make use of that, even if only slightly, gave magic a bit more flair.

To that end, here’s a relic (made using the rules from Eclipse: The Codex Persona) that lets you add reversible spells back into your game…with a little extra!

Palindromic Agimat (1 CP)

This small amulet is inscribed with runes that loop back on themselves, creating a formula that has no beginning or end, regardless of how it’s read.

  • Privilege/the wearer can cast certain spells backwards, creating an effect opposite of their normal results. Preparatory spellcasters must prepare reversed spells to make use of them in this way, whereas spontaneous spellcasters who know a reversible spell may choose which version to cast at the time of casting (3 CP).
    • Major upgrade/the wearer can choose to make use of reverse spell effects from spell completion, spell trigger, and command word-activated magic items (3 CP).

Using Privilege to allow for reversible spellcasting – a very cheap option, especially if you’re not worried about taking the upgrade so as to be able to reverse magic items – is because the GM is the arbiter of what spells are reversible and what aren’t. Below is a suggested list, based on AD&D Second Edition (note that “mass” or “communal” versions of spells are also reversible to their “mass” or “communal” counterparts, respectively, e.g. mass cure light wounds is reversible to mass inflict light wounds).

  • The reverse of comprehend languages is aphasia.
  • The reverse of bestow curse is remove curse.
  • The reverse of bleed is stabilize.
  • The reverse of bless is bane.
  • The reverse of bless water is curse water.
  • The reverse of blindness/deafness is remove blindness/deafness.
  • The reverse of cause fear is remove fear.
  • The reverse of chaos hammer is order’s wrath.
  • The reverse of circle of death is undeath to death.
  • The reverse of cloak of chaos is shield of law.
  • The reverse of consecrate is desecrate.
  • The reverse of contagion is remove disease.
  • The reverse of each of the cure spells is the inflict spell of the same level.
  • The reverse of detect chaos is detect law.
  • The reverse of detect evil is detect good.
  • The reverse of discern lies is glibness.
  • The reverse of dispel chaos is dispel law.
  • The reverse of dispel evil is dispel good.
  • The reverse of dream is nightmare.
  • The reverse of enlarge person is reduce person.
  • The reverse of flesh to stone is stone to flesh.
  • The reverse of freedom is imprisonment.
  • The reverse of hallow is unhallow.
  • The reverse of haste is slow.
  • The reverse of heal is harm.
  • The reverse of holy aura is unholy aura.
  • The reverse of holy smite is unholy blight.
  • The reverse of holy word is blasphemy.
  • The reverse of knock is arcane lock.
  • The reverse of locate object is obscure object.
  • The reverse of  magic circle against chaos is magic circle against law.
  • The reverse of magic circle against evil is magic circle against good.
  • The reverse of neutralize poison is poison.
  • The reverse of protection from chaos is protection from law.
  • The reverse of protection from evil is protection from good.
  • The reverse of purify food and drink is putrefy food and drink.
  • The reverse of raise dead is slay living.
  • The reverse of resurrection is destruction.
  • The reverse of sympathy is antipathy.
  • The reverse of transmute rock to mud is transmute mud to rock.
  • The reverse of water breathing is air breathing.
  • The reverse of word of chaos is dictum.

It’s worth noting that neither spell is the “real” or “correct” version of its reverse. It’s entirely possible for players to find a neutralize poison scroll (which can be reversed into poison) and later on find a poison scroll (which can be reversed into neutralize poison). Both can be the “default” listing for the spell, though this classification is little more than semantic.

A spell can always counter and dispel its reversed form.

D&D Did You Know’s: Comeliness in AD&D 2E

November 20, 2016

Charisma measures a character’s personality, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and appearance.

With this sentence, printed in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, Paizo inherited one of the great debates in D&D: Should appearance be something that Charisma measures?

The issue of measuring something that’s highly subjective wasn’t necessarily the problem. After all, things like “willpower” and “intuition” are also incredibly difficult to measure, and yet no one has any problem assigning those to a character’s Wisdom score. Rather, the problem is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not the beholdee (insert obligatory jokes about eye tyrants here).

Having an objective statistic for something that would vary wildly based on the attitudes and beliefs of other characters tended to be more than a lot of role-players were willing to accept. While the attitude of “low Charisma means being ugly” – and its reverse with regards to high Charisma being beautiful – is still thoroughly enmeshed in the gaming community today, it’s largely treated as a vestigial attitude.

Instead, Charisma is more and more being treated solely as a measurement of force of will and personal magnetism. In fact, the Pathfinder stipulation that it was related to appearance was really the last gasp for the “Charisma is beauty” idea. D&D Fifth Edition struck all references to physical appearance from the entry for Charisma entirely.

Of course, this wasn’t the only attempt to resolve the disparity, however. For many people, the answer was to attempt to break beauty away from Charisma and instead make it its own ability score. This tended to be a bad idea, simply because there were few places to implement the impact of a seventh ability score; for the most part, the game engine already had the main six ability scores apply where they needed to, leaving any new one struggling to define itself.

That said, attempts were still made. E.N. Armoury – Chainmail Bikini added a “Beauty” score, while the infamous Book of Erotic Fantasy had a seventh ability score called “Appearance.” But these third-party products aren’t the attempt that most gamers remember. For that, we turn to the classic AD&D 1E product Unearthed Arcana, which was where most old school gamers came across Gary Gygax’s attempt to resolve this dilemma with a new ability score: Comeliness.

Comeliness was quite wacky, as far as ability scores went. Instead of the usual 1-25 range for AD&D 1E ability scores, it could go as high as 30, and plunge as low as -16 or even further! It also had odd effects, such as acting as an auto-charm on the people around you if high enough, to the point where many of them would start to follow you like love-sick puppies.

The Comeliness statistic didn’t originate in Unearthed Arcana, of course. Like so much of that book, it was compiled from Dragon Magazine, issue #67 in this case. Still, UA was where it reached its widest audience. But for all the attention it drew – a new rule from the co-creator of D&D! – it ultimately failed to find an audience, and by the time AD&D Second Edition came out, Comeliness had been forgotten and quietly slipped into the annals of gaming history.

Or did it?

In fact, Comeliness managed to survive into AD&D 2nd Edition, thanks to the RPGA. You can find intermittent instances of NPCs having Comeliness scores in various issues of Polyhedron Newszine well into the AD&D 2E years, such as in “The Living City: Misti’s Moonlight Pawnshop,” from Polyhedron #105 (March, 1995).

While it would be easy to write this off as a few holdovers from 1E that were being translated into 2E, that wasn’t the case. In fact, rules for the Comeliness score in 2E were tucked away in Polyhedron #89 (November, 1993) in an addendum to the adventure “The Ugly Stick.”

In fact, the 2E Comeliness rules are quite brief, consisting of only three paragraphs and a table:

Comeliness

Much of this scenario relies on the Comeliness rules from the Network’s Living City tournaments. The DM can institute this rule, or the DM can simply substitute Charisma wherever the scenario mentions Comeliness. Here are the Comeliness rules:

Comeliness reflects a character’s physical attractiveness. It can influence the initial reactions NPCs have to a character. Comeliness is not Charisma. The latter score represents a character’s force of personality.

Unlike the original edition of the AD&D game, a character’s Comeliness score is not adjusted based on Charisma, nor can characters with a high Comeliness score “fascinate” others. Comeliness in Living City play affects reaction bonuses that are tied to Charisma. Therefore, a character with a high Charisma and a high Comeliness has a significant reaction bonus.

Comeliness Reaction Adjustment
6 -2
7 -1
8-12 0
13 +1
14 +2
15 +3
16 +5
17 +6
18 +7

That’s all there was. While this doesn’t go below 6 or above 18, it’s fairly easy to calculate what the reaction adjustment would be for such extreme scores; the reaction adjustment listings are identical to those for a Charisma of the same score in the AD&D 2E Player’s Handbook.

While reducing Comeliness to a cut-rate bonus or penalty to one aspect of Charisma might be rather prosaic, it’s also a fairly easy thing to implement. Since reaction adjustment largely only applies to NPCs whose attitude the PCs cared about interacting with, that helped to self-limit the problems of applying beauty to creatures with truly alien standards; such creatures tended to be monsters to be killed, rather than people to be parleyed with.

Pantheons of the Multiverse: The Babylonian Pantheon

October 29, 2016

Writing this series has highlighted just how much D&D’s “generic” pantheons – those pantheons that, for the most part, are based on real-world religions and mythologies – have been downplayed in the game’s presentation.

This can largely be attributed, I think, to their lack of ties to any specific campaign world. Since so much of D&D is written with specific campaign worlds – worlds with defined pantheons – in mind, this has essentially locked these deities out of a large amount of D&D products. Obviously, this is more of a generality than an absolute; just look at Planescape, after all. But it’s still a point worth considering.

Perhaps the area where this is most notable is with regards to D&D novels. If you’re a D&D aficionado, stop and think to yourself about how many times you’ve heard an Earth-based deity get name-dropped in a novel. There were instances of this out there, but they were few and far between.

Instead, most D&D novels were written for the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, which have pantheons of their own. As such, it’s unsurprising that the divinities from Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore would be so notably absent.

Of course, some pantheons have weathered this better than others…

Original D&D

I was surprised to discover that the Babylonian pantheon first appeared in AD&D 1E’s Deities & Demigods, rather than OD&D’s Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes. In fact, they’re one of the few pantheons here not to have that particular pedigree. Instead, the Babylonian deities are presented as a conglomerate with the Sumerian and Canaan deities as part of the “Near Eastern Mythos” article in Dragon #16.

Separating out the names used for Babylonian deities, it consists of Anu, Marduk, Ea, Sin, Ninhursag, Shamash, Ishtar, Tammuz, Ereshkigal, Nergal, Namtar, Tiamat, Apsu, Kingsu, and Nebo. It also has the mortal heroes Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and Utnapishtim. It also lists a few monsters and artifacts, and even name-drops several other deities, albeit with no further exposition beyond what they’re the gods of.

As expansive as this article was, few of these deities would make the transition to the next incarnation of the game. I suspect that this has more to do with AD&D’s expanded stat blocks than anything else, but it’s interesting to see this as being a “winnowing” of the pantheon as it moved into the modern age (with the caveat that some of these gods, such as Tiamat, made a home for themselves elsewhere).

AD&D First Edition

First Edition gave us a much reduced Babylonian pantheon. The nature of the gods, at least insofar as what they demanded of their worshipers, was now much more austere.

The rules for how priests of the Babylonian gods must conduct themselves in 1E seem incredibly harsh, to the point of being almost crippling. While I’d expect “helping enemies of your sect” to be a major transgression, “communicating with intelligent creatures or demi-humans” seems like a good way to destroy party cohesion before the game even begins. And if you do happen to say hello to an elf, the penalties include not only excommunication from your religious order, but a complete loss of all spells until you complete a quest to give your order a boost.

…I suppose that’s not as harsh as the Aztecs, at least.

There’s also an interesting note that the high priest must be a cleric/magic-user, which is a distinction I wish was expounded upon further. It’s at least somewhat intuitive to say that the high-priest will often be the king, but why do they have to know clerical and arcane magic both?

The gods themselves are rather few in number, consisting of Anu, Anshar, Druaga, Girru, Ishtar, Marduk, Nergal, and Ramman. There’s also a listing for Gilgamesh and Dahak, the latter of whom is “just” a monster, which ran counter to my expectations. Beyond that perfunctory presentation, there’s very few instances of the Babylonian deities in First Edition.

I should mention that the Forgotten Realms’ Untheric pantheon – which was already described as extinct when the first boxed set came out – was composed of Babylonian and Sumerian deities. As with the Maztican gods, the Untheric pantheon is different enough from its ancestor that I’ll set it aside for its own article.

AD&D Second Edition

Having started with AD&D 2E (by way of Basic D&D), I didn’t realize that the Babylonian deities were even part of the game. After all, they weren’t in Legends & Lore; eventually I learned otherwise, and started to think of the Babylonian gods – along with the Sumerian and Finnish deities – as “lost pantheons,” since the updated edition of the game had seen fit to leave them behind.

…except that it sort of hadn’t.

The Babylonian gods were given a new lease on life in Planescape’s On Hallowed Ground (which saw fit to keep the same eight deities). Although Planescape had been matter-of-factly talking about the Babylonian deities where it made sense to do so, this was the first time it had put them (along with many, many other deities) front and center. The premise was quite clear: they were and always had been part of the default background assumption of AD&D’s greater multiverse. (In fact, this book postulated a new origin for the Babylonian gods: that they collectively sprang into being, fully-formed, as the cast-off “desire for civilization” from the Sumerian gods.)

This presumption somewhat annoyed me, mostly because it felt like it was putting the cart before the horse insofar as “lore before game stats” was concerned. It was nice to see the “lost pantheons” being brought back, but the lack of information on specialty priests for these deities made this information largely academic. That was particularly true since the setting kept putting forward that two of the Sumerian deities – Nergal and Anshar – had recently slain Enki, a Sumerian deity.

That sort of plot, which underpinned the simmering tension between the two pantheons, would have served as great fodder if a PC were a priest of a god from one of those pantheons, since that kind of rivalry carries over to all associated persons. While I suppose they could have used clerics (which were generic to all deities), I’m still baffled that nobody ever wrote up specialty priest information for these gods.

Beyond Planescape, there’s very few instances of the Babylonian pantheon in action. Return to the Keep on the Borderlands made the bad guys worshippers of Nergal and Ereshkigal. Likewise, DMGR5 Creative Campaigning had AD&D 2E stats for Gilgamesh, along with Enkidu and original character Ahlkish.

D&D Third Edition

It’s somewhat fitting that the Babylonian pantheon would make their last appearance in D&D the same way they did their first: as part of a conglomerate pantheon in Dragon magazine. Specifically, in the “Mesopotamian Mythos” article in Dragon #329.

Similar to their presentation in Dragon #16, the Babylonian gods are subsumed, along with the gods of Sumeria and other ancient near-eastern civilizations, into a single pantheon. While it lists several aliases for most of them, the basic list of gods is Adad, Anu, Belet-ili, Ea, Enlil, Ereshkigal, Ishtar, Marduk, Nergal, Ninurta, Shamash, and Sin. A basic overview of each deity is given, including their clerical domains, making them playable for interested PCs.

I enjoy thinking of this as something akin to the “Twilight of the Gods” for the Babylonian gods and their related pantheons. Here, with many of their members now gone, the remaining deities have been forced to work together to remain relevant and survive. To that end, they’ve subsumed the aspects of their fallen brethren or simply decided to merge (re-merge?) before they died, hence the myriad aliases.

It’s a strategy that’s worthy of the Babylonians, doggedly working to make a place for themselves in a harsh and uncompromising world.

A Magical Medieval Society: Equestria

October 16, 2016

I really don’t know how it is that I never purchased a copy of A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, from Expeditious Retreat Press. It wasn’t like I was unaware of the book, given the accolades that it had accumulated upon its release, and its focus on verisimilitude in the game world was perfectly aligned with my interests. And yet somehow, I never picked it up.

This changed after I read a review of the book by Brandes Stoddard, over on Tribality, a few months previous. While it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, the author’s particular style of writing – a brilliant mixture of insightful and entertaining – was enough to convince me that it was time to rectify this particular gap in my library. And so I went to purchase a copy of the book, now well into it’s second edition.

However, I didn’t go through with the purchase, having found on the author’s blog that a third edition was in the pipeline. While it added only a new section on devising place-names (actually a separate product that was being incorporated into this one), I nevertheless waited for the new edition to be released, picking it up as soon as it was.

Having just concluded reading through the book, I have to admit that it lives up to the hype. Not only is it an excellent primer to medieval European life, but it does an incredible job taking that information and translating it into the magical society that’s presented by the d20 (specifically 3.5) game mechanics.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of these rules is their bottom-up – rather than top-down – nature. This allows them to function at smaller, very nearly individual, levels, rather than being a “big picture” sort of effort to simulate how a kingdom functions. Of course, this means that sometimes the minutia becomes teeth-gritting in how deep it goes, but that’s the price you pay for something this comprehensive.

As a gamer, I naturally wanted to put the book to use after I read it. Luckily, since MMS:WE’s focus is on the background elements of a campaign, this can be done as a world-building exercise. To that end, I naturally wanted to apply it to Equestria, the setting for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which I’ve written about here before.

However, that was something of an awkward fit. While MMS:WE isn’t set in any specific game world, it does presume that the sociopolitical and economic structures used in a campaign are inherently feudal in nature. That’s…iffy when it comes to Equestria. While certain aspects of the show do evoke a feudal system (such as having royalty and nobility), other parts suggest otherwise (such as the lack of taxation and the evidence of a free enterprise market).

Ultimately, Equestria’s nature as an idyllic realm seems to paint a picture of it being an enlightened absolute monarchy (or diarchy, or whatever a multi-princess system of government is called) with a laissez-faire market, which begs the question of how Princess Celestia and Princess Luna – to say nothing of all the other ponies whose cutie marks don’t seem to be career-oriented (such as the Cutie Mark Crusaders) – earn the money that they must surely need.

So giving the “magical medieval” treatment to Equestria proper was out, since the implicit assumptions of the show couldn’t be reconciled with those of MMS:WE. Luckily, there was a third option available. The update that I’d previously posted for my original pony character, Lex Legis, had him seizing a portion of Equestria and making it his own country. Since he’s an autocrat who’s obsessed with systems and processes, that makes his new nation perfect for being run through MMS:WE’s rules.

The Kingdom of Legesia

A full year after having founded his new nation, Lex has overcome multiple challenges both foreign and domestic. His policy of a strong and proactive government has, in the wake of his world’s assimilation into the wider multiverse, found many adherents among the population. Having made peace with an incursion of elementals, subdued a rampaging dragon, and dealt a severe blow to a belligerent Yakyakistan, Lex has amply demonstrated to the citizens of Legesia that their king is devoted to their safety and well-being.

To Equestria and its princesses, as well as the rest of the world, it’s rapidly becoming clear that – for the time being, at least – the Kingdom of Legesia is here to stay.

Country Name The Kingdom of Legesia; Ruler(s) Lex Legis/King Sombra II (king), Sonata Dusk (queen); Size 26,941 sq. mi.; Population 3,200,000; Population Density 118/sq. mi.; Rural Population 2,986,560 (93.33%); Urban Population 213,440 (6.67%); Acres Under Cultivation 1,493,280.

The Kingdom of Legesia is formed from what was formerly the western third of Equestria. Despite this, only a tenth of Equestria’s ponies lived there, owing to large concentrations of forests and mountains. Today, the vast majority live in the “little breadbasket” region in the northwest, with the rest occupying communities along the western coast, and a minority living in small woodland or mountain settlements.

The base assumptions regarding the size of Equestria and its population come from Thoth’s excellent article on the subject.

Metropolises 1 (Las Pegasus); Large Cities 2 (Tall Tale, Vanhoover); Small Cities 6 (Friesno, Seaddle, Tabiano Port and three others); Large Towns 16 (Bronco Downs, Hoofington, Pineville, Spurfield and twelve others); Small Towns 27 (Lipizzan Heights, Neighton, Pinto Creek and twenty-four others); Manors 6,637.

The designations used for each type of settlement are in accordance with the 3.5 DMG. That is, a “metropolis” has 25,001+ people, a “large city” has 12,001-25,000 people, etc. This breakdown is important since the number and category of urban settlements (along with manors) are one of the primary factors in calculating national revenue.

Station Number Manors Average Manors/Pony Allodial Holdings
King 1 133 133 50%
Great Landowners 8 996 124.5 37.50%
Nobility 64 1,327 20.73 12.50%
Gentry 1,600 4,181 2.61 0%

The table above serves to list how the country is broken down among its aristocracy. The “Number” column, for example, says how many individuals occupy each listing on the “Station” column (e.g. there are sixty-four members of the nobility in Legesia). “Manors” indicates the total number of manors, and associated villages, that are assigned to each social strata, while “Average Manors/Pony” breaks them down among individuals. Finally “Allodial Holdings” shows how much of the country’s land is owned by each class of the upper echelons.

Type Traditional monarchy; Strength of King Strong (with Sonata) or Average (without Sonata); Total Tax Revenue 19,512,000 gp; Total Scutage Revenue 9,756,000 gp; Total Mine Income Revenue 763,255 gp.

As indicated above, while Sonata does not technically occupy a rank on her own merits – her status as queen is dependent entirely on her marriage to Lex – her ability to connect with the populace at large, and to ameliorate her husband’s poor personality, is so significant that without her, Lex’s ability to govern would take a very large hit.

Station Base Manor Income Manor Income Tax Income Scutage Income Mine Income Town Income Total Income
King 8,250 gp 1,097,250 gp 8,390,160 gp 4,878,000 gp 381,627.5 gp 315,810 gp 15,070,247.5 gp
Great Landowners 6,500 gp 6,474,000 gp 7,219,440 gp 3,658,500 gp 286,220.63 gp 236,857.5 gp 17,875,018.13 gp
The Average Great Landowner 6,500 gp 809,250 gp 902,430 gp 457,312.5 gp 35,777.58 gp 29,607.19 gp 2,234,377.27 gp
Nobility 6,500 gp 8,625,500 gp 3,902,400 gp 1,219,500 gp 95,406.88 gp 78,952.5 gp 13,921,759.38 gp
The Average Noble 6,500 gp 134,773.44 gp 60,975 gp 19,054.69 gp 1,490.73 gp 1,233.63 gp 217,527.49 gp
Gentry 7,500 gp 31,357,500 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 31,357,500 gp
The Average Gentry 7,500 gp 19,598.44 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 19,598.44 gp

This table is the result of all of the other information posted above (though the pertinent calculations weren’t posted here). This chart lists how much money the government takes in, and where it goes. Note that, while the “King” row applies to that strata and the individuals within it simultaneously (since there’s only a single individual who is king), subsequent rows showcase either an entire social strata (e.g. “Nobility” is the sum of all the nobles in the country) or a particular individual within that strata (e.g. “The Average Noble” is for any particular member of the nobility).

While this amount of money – which represents the total income collected by the government per year – might look outrageous (over 78 million gp!), this money isn’t all personal revenue. On the contrary, Lex mandates that 90% of this must be spent on various government projects that he has outlined, with only 10% being allocated for personal income. To enforce this, he has created a branch of his Office of the Exchequer devoted to aggressively auditing income vs. expenditure among the aristocracy. Those who embezzle government funds are punished harshly.

Despite this, the money that remains is typically enough to afford very lavish living conditions. For example, even after giving back 90% of what they’ve taken in, the average member of the gentry can still afford to live a “wealthy”-class lifestyle, and have some money left over. This is even more true for the nobles and great landowners, who can afford to live extravagantly.

Lex naturally also adheres to this stricture, reducing his personal income to just over 1.5 million gp. Of course, he splits his income evenly with his wife, but even after this – and subtracting the 1,000 gp/month cost to live an extravagant lifestyle; done after all other calculations (see below) – he still has an enormous amount of gold coming in on an annual basis.

According to Appendix II of MMS:WE, a certain percentage of income comes in the form of magic items, rather than money. Lex maintains that this must be given back in the same proportion that it’s received in, which means that he – as king – receives only 10% of the above revenue in magic items. All of the rest is in coins, gemstones, valuable objets d’art, and other forms of non-magical wealth with high liquidity.

Given that he has only recently introduced divine spellcasting to his country, as well as created a college for arcane magic, most of the 75k worth of magic items that he’s received have been scrolls and potions, none of which are higher than 2nd-level, along with numerous charms and talismans created via Equestria’s native spellcasting. However, Lex is able to save all of these from year to year if he wants, since he’s voluntarily taking in less than the 25% level of magic item retention suggested in MMS:WE.

This, of course, leaves the question as to what Lex does with the 600,000+ gp in cash that he still has after all other considerations – such as magic items and lifestyle costs – are taken into account. While some is spent on stronger magic items that he goes on special off-world trips to acquire, most of the rest of his money is spent on various personal projects, some of which he keeps hidden from everypony…

A Brain-Trembling Villain

September 26, 2016

Although 2016 isn’t over yet, it seems safe to say that the recently-concluded Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- is going to be one of the best anime of the year. Having finished watching the show, I’m now quite eager to find the light novels that it’s based on, as there’s quite clearly more to the series than what the anime was able to portray.

As a note, this post will have considerable spoilers for the series. 

The protagonist of Re:Zero is a young man named Subaru Natsuki. Inexplicably brought to another world while returning home from buying dinner, he befriends a beautiful half-elf girl named Emilia, who turns out to be a candidate to become queen of the country he finds himself in. Naturally, this leads to all sorts of intrigues and adventures.

Like so many young men who get thrown into other worlds, Subaru is granted a special power…albeit one that carries a heavy burden: when killed, Subaru immediately reincarnates a short time in the past, with all of his memories intact. He eventually determines that this ability is given to him by an enigmatic – and widely-feared – entity known only as Satella the Jealous Witch, who moves up the date of his “save point” when he overcomes various obstacles. However, she doesn’t let him tell anyone he has this power, tormenting him with crippling anxiety whenever he tries.

What makes Re:Zero so enjoyable is that the show doesn’t treat the effect of Subaru’s “Return by Death” power (as he calls it) lightly. I suspect that a lot of other shows would have had their protagonist use such a power casually, committing suicide over and over so that they could gather information and try different strategies to overcome a seemingly-insurmountable problem. Re:Zero, however, makes it clear that dying tends to be very painful and intensely traumatic, meaning that Subaru still tries his hardest to survive.

Moreover, the series is smart enough not to wallow in pathos. While not afraid to highlight the effect that Subaru’s struggles have on him, it keeps the focus on the problems that he needs to overcome. In this way, the story makes the plot and the characterization complement each other, instead of getting in each other’s way.

…that, and its villain is quite the spectacle.

Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti, level 12 Archbishop of Sloth

First appearing more than halfway through the series, Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti is a leader in the universally-loathed cult that reveres the Jealous Witch. Thoroughly in love with Satella despite never having met her, Betelgeuse works tirelessly to complete the Ordeal, the ritual that will allow the Witch to reincarnate in a new body.

Betelgeuse

He’s basically a living meme.

To those who meet him, it’s immediately obvious that Betelgeuse is a madman. Gaunt and pale, his eyes bulge from their sockets and his lips are typically pulled back in a rictus grin. Even when calm, he speaks in a grandiloquent style and makes jerky, sweeping motions with his entire body. Easily agitated, he’ll descend into fits of mania that worsen all of these traits; he’ll become fixated on a single word in a sentence, either rapidly firing off synonyms or simply shrieking the word over and over while deliberately injuring himself by biting his fingers until they bleed or tearing handfuls of hair from his head.

His madness is not weakness, however. As a high-level Witch Cultist, Betelgeuse not only has the Witch’s aura around him, but has learned how to weaponize it, forming it into invisible tendrils that end in hands. This makes him a formidable opponent, as he can crush an enemy to pieces without seeming to do anything at all. And that’s just the beginning of his bag of tricks…

As per usual, this character is built using the point-buy rules in Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

Available Character Points: 312 (level 12 base) + 30 (levels 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 feats) + 6 (human bonus feat) + 10 (disadvantages) + 36 (restrictions) = 394 CP.

Betelgeuse has taken three restrictions: to not use melee weapons, to not use ranged weapons, and to not wear armor. Normally these restrictions would be intensely severe, but his build is designed to work around them. His disadvantages are Broke (he effectively has no equipment), Insane (this should be self-evident), and Outcast (Witch Cultists are loathed by virtually everyone else in the world).

Ability Scores (28-point buy):

Ability Scores Base Level Bonus Total
Strength 15 +1 (8th) 16 (+3)
Dexterity 10 10 (+0)
Constitution 13 13 (+1)
Intelligence 12 12 (+1)
Wisdom 9 +1 (4th) 10 (+0)
Charisma 15 +1 (12th) 16 (+3)

As the point-buy used for the above stats show, Betelgeuse is built on the basic 3.5 assumptions. While the above stats might seem low, they’re fairly appropriate for a world where most magic is focused on external effects rather than self-enhancement, and where most magic items (“metia”) are minor conveniences, rather than weapons or armor.

Human Traits (9 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills for one-half cost (3 CP).
  • Bonus feat (6 CP).

Basic Abilities (147 CP)

  • 12d8 Hit Dice (48 CP).
  • +12 BAB, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only for unarmed strikes with extra limbs (24 CP).
  • Fort +8, Ref +4, Will +8 (60 CP).
  • Increase specialization of racial Fast Learner from one-half to double effect (done at level 0) (3 CP).
  • 12 skill points (12 CP).
  • No weapon or armor proficiencies (0 CP).

Although the world of Re:Zero doesn’t utilize any obvious analogues for d20 classes – besides your typical commoners and non-magical fighter/skill-user types that are found in virtually every world – Betelgeuse’s basic stats are built with a cleric in mind. The upgrade to Fast Learner lets us save a few CPs on his skill points.

Archbishop of Sloth (18 CP)

  • Improved Karma/bad karma, specialized for one-half cost/creates an aura that can be detected by others with negative karma as well as magical beasts, undead, fey, and outsiders, as well as divination spells and effects (6 CP).
  • Leadership with Born Leader and Emperor’s Star, corrupted for two-thirds cost/followers must have the Insane and Outcast disadvantages (12 CP).

The use of Karma here is meant to simulate the tainted aura that clings to those who use the Witch’s power (though even when karma points are expended, this shouldn’t decrease). Since bad karma also is used by the GM to penalize the character’s roles, this also helps to explain how Betelgeuse is eventually defeated (and why Subaru, who also has the Witch’s corruption thanks to her continually reincarnating him, has to go through so much hardship!).

Betelgeuse has 45 levels’ worth of followers, none of which can be above ECL 9; he usually has a couple dozen low-level followers. Emperor’s Star adds his same use of Improved Karma to all of Betelgeuse’s followers. It’s very important to him that he always have people who’ve felt the Witch’s touch nearby (see below).

Unseen Hand (87 CP)

  • Extra Limbs x6 (36 CP).
  • Immunity to limitations on reach (very common/major/epic), specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only with extra limbs, does not threaten non-adjacent areas (18 CP).
  • Immunity to limbs being severed or rendered nonfunctional (uncommon/major/great), corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (8 CP).
  • Immunity to being seen (very common/minor/great), specialized and corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs, can be seen by those with negative karma values of 10+ or “see invisibility” magic (8 CP).
  • Immunity to weight and leverage (uncommon/minor/major), corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (2 CP).
  • Immunity to not being able to conduct multiple grapples at once (common/major/major), corrupted for increased effect/only applies to extra limbs (9 CP).
  • Damage reduction 5, specialized for double effect/only applies to extra limbs, corrupted for two-thirds cost/overcome by magic weapons (6 CP).

Between using Extra Limbs – a power which is meant to be limited to racial and template builds – and several instances of natural law Immunities, this suite of powers would warrant a second, or even third, look from a discriminating GM. (His Immunity to reach should allow for his extra limbs to reach up to 30 feet away.)

Betelgeuse’s invisible hands are essentially astral limbs that he can manifest, and are very difficult to detect, let alone damage. Worse, damaging them is largely futile, as he can manifest new ones immediately (that’s what the Immunity to having them severed is meant to represent). Being invisible, these limbs receive a +2 bonus on attacks against foes that cannot detect them, and said foes are also flat-footed against such attacks.

Betelgeuse can grapple multiple opponents at once with his unseen hands, without taking grapple penalties himself. However, grapple checks made in this way take a -8 penalty to their rolls. He’ll need to buy this Immunity up considerably (all the way to epic resistance) in order to eliminate this penalty altogether.

Authority of Sloth (86 CP)

  • Improved Imbuement/unarmed strikes: +1 enhancement bonus and adamantine, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (8 CP).
  • Martial Arts/2d10 base damage, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (14 CP).
  • Evasive/grapple, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (2 CP).
  • Specialist/grapple, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (2 CP).
  • Trick, when an opponent is pinned for 3 rounds, may force them to make a Fortitude save (Str-based) or be killed, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (4 CP).
  • Enhanced Strike/crushing and whirlwind, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (8 CP).
  • Improved Superior Rapid Strike, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for extra limbs (24 CP).
  • Celerity with Improved x2 and Additional (flight); granting 50 ft. flight (perfect) (24 CP).

This suite of abilities is why Betelgeuse’s unseen hands are so incredibly deadly. In addition to dealing massive damage, and being able to overcome magic- and adamantine-based DR (and hardness), he’s able to make myriad attacks with them. When facing a single opponent, Betelgeuse will often use Enhanced Strike/crushing to devastate them. But he much prefers to grapple opponents and slowly crush their limbs or throat; when surrounded, he’ll use Enhanced Strike/whirlwind with a grapple attempt to grab multiple foes at once, slaying them all a few rounds later, without ever getting close to them.

His ability to fly is due to him being able to pick himself up with his unseen hands. As astral creations, they’re not subject to gravity, and don’t need to press against anything to move. As such, when he needs to move quickly, Betelgeuse can scoop himself up and fly off.

Undying Love (36 CP)

  • Returning/can possess the body of someone within a quarter-mile that has a negative karma value of at least 10 (6 CP).
  • Improved Stoic with Ferocity (15 CP).
  • Inherent Spell with Multiple x2, all specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites, and one more instance of Multiple (summon construct VI) (15 CP).

This suite is why Betelgeuse doesn’t place much emphasis on bumping up his Armor Class. So long as he always has enough minions nearby that have sufficient corruption from the Witch, he can always come back. Even if that avenue is closed to him, however, he can be surprisingly difficult to kill. In a worst-case scenario, he can wrap himself in his unseen hands, forming an impromptu suit of armor. In other words, use the summon construct spell from The Practical Enchanter, p. 85.

Betelgeuse’s psychic construct is spell level 7, but its abilities (The Practical Enchanter, pg. 230-232) are preset and unchangeable, lowering the spell level to 6. These abilities are as follows: Menu A) Armored, Buff, and Celerity. Menu B) Feat (Pounce), Heavy Deflection, and Trample. Menu C) Enveloping.

Miscellaneous Abilities (20 CP)

  • 3d6 (10) points of mana, corrupted for two-thirds cost/no form of natural magic (12 CP).
  • Ritual Magic (6 CP).
  • Defender/dodge bonus, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only when not wearing armor, requires one extra limb not to be used per +1 bonus gained (2 CP).

Betelgeuse usually uses his mana to power his Enhanced Strike abilities (see above), but will use it to fuel his earth-based rune magic when in a pinch. Likewise, his Defender ability is a lesser version of his construct-armor; by dedicating a few of his unseen hands to defense, he can increase his Armor Class, albeit only slightly.

Finally, his Ritual Magic is meant to represent his ability to invoke the Ordeal that will reincarnate the Jealous Witch.

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 8 (d8 at 1st level) + 49 (11d8) + 12 (Con bonus) = 69 hp.
  • Speed: 30 ft., fly 50 ft. (perfect)
  • Init: +0 (Dex bonus).
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +8 (base) +1 (Con bonus) = +9.
    • Ref: +4 (base) +0 (Dex bonus) = +4.
    • Will: +8 (base) +0 (Wis bonus) = +8.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) + 0 (Dex bonus) = 10, touch 10, flat-footed 10.
  • Attacks:
    • Unseen Hand: +16/+14/+12/+10/+8/+6 (2d10+4).
    • Unseen Hand grapple: +20 (reduced to +12 when grappling multiple foes at once).
  • Total skill points: 30 (human bonus) + 15 (Int bonus) + 12 (12 CP) = 57 skill points.
Skills Ranks Ability Bonuses Totals
Climb 1 +3 Str +4
Concentration 2 +1 Con +3
Diplomacy 1 +3 Cha +4
Earth Casting 11 +3 Cha +14
Earth Mastery 13 +3 Cha +16
Intimidate 2 +3 Cha +5
Knowledge (arcana) 4 +1 Int +5
Knowledge (geography) 4 +1 Int +5
Knowledge (history) 4 +1 Int +5
Knowledge (local) 4 +1 Int +5
Knowledge (religion) – specific (Gospel of the Witch Cult) 1 (+15 bonus) +1 Int +16 (Gospel of the Witch Cult only)
Spellcraft 10 +1 Int +11

Betelgeuse’s class skills are the twelve skills listed above.

With his ranks in Earth Casting and Earth Mastery, Betelgeuse is able to cast earth-based spells of 4th-level or below, with a caster level of 7. Each spell level requires that 1 point of mana (see above) be spent. As noted, he does this only rarely, typically when his offensive abilities are blunted and he requires greater defense.

Further Development

Betelgeuse is a glass cannon, having very strong offensive capabilities but no real defense to speak of. His ability to raise his AC (via Defender) is incredibly minor, and typically not worth the effort it takes for him to do so (though this will change if he buys the specialization and corruption for increased effect rather than reduced cost). If characters can get the drop on him, he can be taken out with surprising ease. But if he’s the one who surprises them, things can quickly turn into a bloodbath.

Of course, all of this matches neatly with what we see in the show. In fact, the stats and abilities line up so perfectly that it can’t help but make my brain…tremble!

Pantheons of the Multiverse: The Aztec Pantheon

September 18, 2016

The presentation of the Aztec pantheon is one that’s been altered virtually every time it’s appeared in Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, even the name of the pantheon itself is different with each iteration, to say nothing of the component deities that make it up. Few are the pantheons that have this level of fluidity in their membership.

While it’s easy to look askance on this imprecision, I think that this has an upside to it as well. After all, the deities here have been repurposed not once, but twice within various AD&D game worlds. We see them in the gods of Maztica (though more as inspiration than a direct representation), as well as the Olman pantheon.

Despite the links between these pantheons, I’ll save my coverage of them for other articles.

Original Dungeons & Dragons

Receiving only two pages in the original Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes, this collection of gods is called the “Mexican and Central American Indian Mythology.” Noting that information on these gods is scarce, the books lists only six deities: Quetzacoatl, Tonatuh, Huitzilopoohtli, Goddess of the Jade Petticoat, Tezcat, and Mictantecuhtli.

As with all of the gods of Supplement IV, the information on each god is limited directly to the deity in question, outlining their powers and abilities. Information on how clerics and priests of these gods conducted themselves, or even what the gods wanted from their worshipers, would have to wait until the next iteration of the game.

AD&D First Edition

In Deities & Demigods, the pantheon that these gods belonged to was called the “Central American Mythos.” Not only did the deities in question grow, but so did the available information on their overall nature, as well as those who would worship them.

I forgot to mention in my article about the American Indian pantheon (though I went back and edited it in later), but while deities in AD&D 1E didn’t have priesthoods that were tailored to them, the pantheons presented in Deities & Demigods did have, in their opening sections, modifiers that applied to priests of any god of that pantheon. I find that interesting, because while it’s less distinctive than having priests of each deity have specific abilities, it creates a thematic presentation for each pantheon as a whole, giving them a shared presentation in the game world.

For priests of the Aztec pantheon, this was not only limited to their commune and gate spells being restricted to the alternate Material Plane where those gods dwelled, but was found in the extremely harsh conditions that Aztec priest characters labored under. Even minor transgressions result in losing some wealth or some XPs. A major failure will see that offender not only losing all wealth but also all experience points, busting them back down to 1st level!

There’s also a notation that Aztec priest characters must choose a cardinal direction, and gain a bonus to attacks and spells made when facing that direction, but even though that’s generous for AD&D 1E, I have serious doubts as to whether it’s enough to make up for the high costs of failure. At least when your character dies, you can have them resurrected or roll up a new one; being robbed of all of your character levels in one fell swoop, however, is a penalty of such magnitude that I can’t see many PCs coming back from it.

…of course, that also means that, if you’re facing an Aztec priest character as an antagonist, defeating them once will usually be enough to put them out of commission for a long, long time.

Moving on, there a several more deities to be found here (deities who were present before, but have had a name change – notwithstanding minor spelling differences – have their previous name listed in parenthesis): Quetzalcoatl, Camaxtli, Camazotz (Tezcat), Chalchiuhtlicue (Goddess of the Jade Petticoat), Huhueteotl, Huitzilopochtli, Itzamna, Mictlantecuhtli, Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc, Tlazolteotl, and Xochipilli. There’s also a single entry for Hunapu and Xbalanque, twin heroes.

To summarize the changes from OD&D, only Tonatuh the sun god is no longer present in the roster. Given that the new sun god, Tezcatlipoca, is not only Chaotic Evil (which is also true for the Huhueteotl, the new god of fire) but schemes to overthrow Quetzalcoatl as head of the pantheon, a good in-game explanation would be that this god overthrew Tonatuh.

AD&D Second Edition

Now simply referred to as “Aztec Mythology” in the AD&D 2E Legends & Lore book, the pantheon has received another shake-up, though with thirteen deities it’s now slightly larger than its previous presentation. The gods listed are: Ometeotl, Huitzilopochtli, Quetzalcoatl, Mictlantecuhtli, Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc, Chalchiuhtlicue, Tlazolteotl, Xochipilli, Xochiquetzal, Metzli, Centeotl, and Ixtlilton.

Here, we can see that several deities from the AD&D 1E group have been replaced by newcomers. Camaxtli is gone, as are Camazotz, Huhueteotl, and Itzamna. Interestingly, we actually got an explanation (albeit one considerably after the fact) for what happened to Camaxtli, as he was stated to be killed by Tenebrous in the Planescape adventure Dead Gods. Similarly, both Huhueteotl and Camazotz are found with the aforementioned Olman pantheon; perhaps they were banished from the Aztec pantheon proper? Finally, there’s been a change in leadership, as newcomer Ometeotl is now the head of the pantheon.

That’s not the only change. In addition to having sections on Aztec history, culture, and religion (including a note that these deities now live in space in AD&D 2E, rather than an alternate Material Plane; it even mentions Spelljammer in this context!), we also get a new spell locate spirit animal, and a new magic item, the murky mirror. While Hunapu and Xbalanque are overlooked, we do get stats for three new notable personages: Nezahualcoytl, Nezahualpilli, and Axayacatl.

Finally, note that the “Sage Advice” column in Dragon #198 gives unofficial suggestions for what Tome of Magic spheres specialty priests of the Aztec deities should receive.

D&D Third Edition

The Aztec pantheon never received a formal debut in D&D 3E, but the article “Do-It-Yourself Deities” in Dragon #283 lists several pantheons as examples to be drawn upon when building a pantheon from scratch, the Aztec among them.

The gods listed there are drawn verbatim from the twelve in AD&D 1E, and aren’t given any real presentation besides what each one is the god of, their alignment, their clerical domains, and their typical worshipers. Still, notwithstanding knowing the deity’s favored weapon, that’s just barely enough to play a cleric of one of these gods in 3E.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

It’s unfortunate to consider that the Aztec pantheon, like the American Indian pantheon, was so thoroughly forgotten within the wider AD&D multiverse. They weren’t totally ignored, but they were still thoroughly overlooked, to the point where the instances where they were included are exceptionally rare.

Two members of the pantheon, Tlazolteotl and Xochipilli are – once again, just like Raven from the American Indian pantheon – featured in an adventure in OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes. In fact, it’s the same adventure, “A Simple Deed, Well Rewarded,” except that they’re kept in the background, being proprietors of a pleasure palace on a jungle world. Of course, both gods remain “off camera” the entire time. That’s also the case for Camaxtli in his aforementioned reference in Dead Gods.

Beyond that, there’s virtually nothing. I do recall that Camazotz gets name-dropped at one or two points in the Savage Tide adventure path in Dungeon magazine, but that’s a very minor reference.

Personally, I really wish that Spelljammer had given some reference to the Aztec deities living in wildspace, or even better: a short adventure involving one or more of them. There was a lot of potential for genre-mashups with mixing those two together, and I think it’s a real shame that we never got to see what that would’ve been like.

The Werewinter Wolf Template

September 10, 2016

It always struck me as odd how most d20 worlds had lycanthropes that were limited to normal animals; that is, that “were” creatures were virtually always based on creatures found in the real world. Even the more exotic lycanthropes were content to stretch the boundaries only so far as using dinosaurs or insects as their base creatures.

Given how saturated with magic your average d20 world is, that seems strangely limited. While I’m sure that there’s some d20 product out there that does venture further afield, the fact that such things are so fantastically rare underscores the point. If your PCs can run into halfling wererats or human werewolves, why not have hobgoblin wereowlbears or ogre werebulettes?

To that end, I’ve written the following template that turns winter wolves into a lycanthrope. Given that werewolves are easily the most familiar form of lycanthrope, and winter wolves are some fairly standard d20 monster fare, this template should serve as an excellent way to introduce new forms of werecreatures into your campaign.

Of course, it goes without saying that this template is made with Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

Werewinter Wolf Template (96 CP/+3 ECL)

Protip: Never tell a creature with the cold subtype that they "look hot."

Protip: Never call a creature with the cold subtype “a hottie.”

This template allows the character it’s applied to to shapechange into winter wolf several times per day. It doesn’t make any other conceit where typical werecreatures are concerned. That is, this doesn’t allow for lycanthropy to be transmitted to creatures that the werewinter wolf bites. Likewise, this template is presumed to be inherited (or, perhaps, magically acquired), and so grants full control over the alternate form. There’s no risk of involuntary transformation due to the full moon nor any requirement to make a skill check (e.g. Control Shape) to maintain control.

I also need to give credit where it’s due: this template is heavily inspired by Pathfinder Adventure Path #68, “The Shackled Hut,” by Paizo Publishing. In the course of that adventure, the PCs journey to a human city that Baba Yaga has enchanted so as to allow winter wolves to take on a human form while within its environs. While that’s not exactly the same as this template, it was still a source of inspiration for it.

Basic Abilities (72 CP)

  • +6d8 Hit Dice (72 CP).

The single most expensive aspect of this template, this is required to make winter wolf a viable transformation via shapeshift for characters with less than 6 Hit Dice. It’s also the only part of this template that applies in both forms.

Form of the Winter Wolf (21 CP)

  • Shapeshift with +3 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/does not allow any animal forms to be taken (5 CP).
    • Beasts, corrupted for two-thirds cost/winter wolf form only (2 CP).
    • Growth, specialized for one-half cost/Large size only (1 CP).
    • Attribute modifiers (6 CP).
    • Enchanted, corrupted for two-thirds cost/breath weapon can only be used 5 times per day (4 CP).
  • Energy Infusion (cold), specialized for one-half cost/only while shapechanged (3 CP).

This is the main aspect of this template, granting the lion’s share of the abilities that comes from transforming into a winter wolf, which can be done 3 times per day, plus once per three character levels. Specifically, this suite of abilities grants: large size (with the attendant modifiers, albeit none for ability scores), darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent, speed 50 ft., Str +8, Dex +2, Con +6, +5 natural armor, and a bite natural weapon for 1d8 damage (which, as the only natural weapon, gains +1.5 x Strength bonus). It also grants a free trip attempt, as a free action and without provoking an AoO, on each successful bite attack. Further, each successful bite deals an additional 1d6 points of cold damage. Finally, it grants the cold subtype as well.

There’s also a breath weapon, which deserves special mention. The basic winter wolf entry says that it can be used every 1d4 rounds. Eclipse’s design philosophy, however, is that (most) unlimited-use abilities are actually usable about five times per day; that’s typically all an NPC will get before the PCs make short work of them. By explicitly making that the case here, we can save on a few CPs, and bring things into line if a PC ever takes this template.

Since Eclipse treats breath weapons as Inherent Spell abilities, I’d recommend allowing the damage to scale with Hit Dice, to a maximum of 10d6. The DC is 10 + 1/2 Hit Dice + Con modifier, Reflex save for half. That’s not very strong, but an Eclipse character can modify that with any number of special abilities.

Prowess of the Winter Wolf (7 CP)

  • Track, specialized for one-half cost/only while shapechanged (1 CP).
  • Improved Initiative II, specialized for one-half cost/only while shapechanged (3 CP).
  • Skill Emphasis II (Listen and Spot), specialized for one-half cost/only while shapechanged (3 CP).

These abilities replicate the feats that a standard winter wolf has. While feats are typically represented as being learned, rather than inherent abilities, that can be a blurry line when it comes to adroitly using natural abilities. In this case, we’re saying that such prowess is more natural than not for winter wolves.

For Pathfinder characters, change Skill Emphasis II to work on Perception and Sense Motive.

Insights of the Winter Wolf (6 CP)

  • +1 bonus to Listen, Move Silently, and Spot, specialized for one-half cost/only while shapechanged (1 CP).
  • +3 bonus to Hide, specialized and corrupted for triple effect/only while shapechanged, only while in areas of snow and ice (3 CP).
  • +2 bonus to Survival, specialized for double effect/only while shapechanged (2 CP).

These replicate the racial skill bonuses that winter wolves get. We’ve made some slight tweaks, in that they no longer receive a blanket +2 bonus to Hide checks, but now gain +9 when hiding in areas of snow and ice (which I think makes more sense overall). Likewise, the +4 bonus to Survival is now universal when in winter wolf form, instead of being limited to tracking by scent.

For Pathfinder characters, these bonuses become +1 to Perception, Sense Motive, and Stealth, with a further +9 bonus to Stealth when in areas of snow and ice. The +4 Survival bonus remains as well.

Fate of a Werebeast (-10 CP)

  • Disadvantages: Outcast, Poor Reputation, and Valuable (-10 CP).

A werewinter wolf, like all shapeshifters, is not welcome in any community. Winter wolves are typically recognized as being vicious monsters by all other creatures, whereas winter wolves themselves think of anything that changes into a human (or other creature) as being weak and tainted. Moreover, as werebeasts, everyone expects them to spread lycanthropy and go on monstrous rampages, regardless of whether that’s true or not. Finally, wizards and other spellcasters value the pelts of winter wolves, were or not, as magical components.

Further Development

As a fully-developed template, there’s little more to build on at first glance. The most obvious direction is to purchase further modifiers, such as Hybrid, to expand on the versatility of shapeshifting (such purchases would, of course, be made via CPs from character levels). A character could also, as alluded to previously, make purchases to increase their breath weapon’s power. However, that’s likely to quickly yield diminishing returns.

Overall, the best bet is probably to buy abilities that integrate this template more closely into your character’s overall theme. Someone who wants to be a shapeshifter extraordinaire will want to buy off the specializations and corruptions that limit this to winter wolf form, for instance, whereas someone who wants to become “leader of the pack” can take Leadership and further cold-based powers (the better to show off why they’re the ruler).

D&D Did You Know’s: Using Turn Undead on Fiends (AD&D 2E)

September 4, 2016

Clerical turning – the ability for clerics to channel the power of their deity and force the undead to cower before it (or, for evil clerics, to be controlled by it) – is one of the defining powers for priestly characters in Dungeons & Dragons, druids notwithstanding. While the power manifests differently in different editions, in most it’s a built-in class feature for clerics (and classes with similar themes, such as paladins).

While clerical turning had already become standard by the time AD&D Second Edition had rolled around, the diversity found in the massive breadth of 2E products that were released over that edition’s lifespan meant that clerical turning would see some new options also…even if these were relatively few and far between.

Perhaps the best-known modification to clerical turning is the revised turning rules that came into use if you found yourself trapped within Ravenloft. In the Demiplane of Dread, clerical turning was far less efficacious…though it was arguably strange that for evil clerics, using their turning power to control the undead was similarly blunted.

Far less known is the ability to turn lycanthropes, a power commanded solely by priests of the Knorr barbarians (from Jakandor, Island of War) who take the shapeshifter kit. While this functions best against afflicted lycanthropes, it also gives the shapeshifter power over natural lycanthropes as well. (And if you’re a DM who read that and immediately thought “but I bet it doesn’t work against wolfweres” then kudos to you for your deviousness.)

But just as (if not more) obscure – and the real subject of this article – is the change that was made to clerical turning in the Guide to Hell, right at the end of AD&D Second Edition.

Released in December of 1999, when AD&D 2E had less than a year of life left, the Guide to Hell allowed classes with the the ability to turn undead to also use that ability on fiends (while the book was about devils specifically, it notes that this allows turning to be used on “devils, demons, yugoloths, and so forth”). This required no kit or other alteration to do; it was explicitly allowed to all clerics, paladins, and by extension any other class that could turn undead. It even provided its own table with which to chart the results. (And, of course, it noted that evil clerics and their ilk could also control fiends in this manner.)

Needless to say, this is a notable boost in power for clerics, since fiends tend to be one of the major categories of monsters for characters as they get into the higher levels. While this notes that fiends can’t be turned on their home plane, it’s still a not-inconsiderable buff to give priests the ability to turn them.

Except, as it turns out, that boost was there all along. Sort of.

You see, the Guide to Hell explicitly notes that the ability to turn fiends, along with the undead, is actually explicitly stated in the PHB…for paladins. In the class description, it notes:

A paladin gains the power to turn undead, devils, and demons when he reaches 3rd level. He affects these monsters the same as does a cleric two levels lower–e.g., at 3rd level he has the turning power of a 1st-level cleric. See the section on priests for more details on this ability.

And that was it. Insofar as I can tell, nowhere else in the PHB does it mention using clerical turning to affect creatures besides the undead (notwithstanding an ambiguous notation on the Turning Undead table which says that turning “special” creatures include “certain Greater and Lesser Powers” – “Powers” meaning “deities,” of all things!). It appears that the designers, along with everyone else in the wider gaming community, simply forgot that paladins were explicitly granted the ability to turn “devils and demons” as well, along with the implication that this power extended to clerics too.

So really, the Guide to Hell was simply giving clerics back an ability that had been there, forgotten, since Second Edition had debuted.

(Of course, what it doesn’t mention is the possibility of the inverse of turning fiends also holding true: namely, that evil clerics can turn celestials while good clerics can rebuke them. That would also make for an interesting dynamic, particularly if you were playing celestial PCs via Warriors of Heaven, which had just come out three months previous.)