Posts Tagged ‘Eclipse’

Eclipse and Psychic Magic

May 26, 2017

Pathfinder is often hailed as being “3.75,” a moniker that it comes by honestly. However, as much as it kept the central components of 3.5 alive, it altered or eschewed several of the peripheral elements. One of the more notable instances of this is in how Pathfinder has discarded psionics in favor of psychic magic.

Presented as filling the same conceptual niche as psionics, psychic magic has several differences from arcane or divine magic. So how easy is it to use with Eclipse: The Codex Persona? To answer that, let’s take a look at the various aspects of psychic magic and see how well they can be translated over.

Neither Arcane Nor Divine: The rules for psychic magic state: “Psychic spellcasters aren’t affected by effects that target only arcane or divine spellcasters, nor can they use arcane or divine scrolls or other items or feats that state they can be utilized by only arcane or divine spellcasters.” This is a distinction that can be taken as-is. The magic progressions in Eclipse (pg. 11-14) determine things such as spells per day, spells known for spontaneous casters, and how broad your spell list is. Determining what type of magic buying levels in a progression represents is a separate consideration – much like determining which ability score is tied to your spellcasting – and so has no CP cost.

Thought and Emotion Components: The single largest difference between psychic magic and other kinds of magic is that it doesn’t have verbal or somatic components. Rather, it has thought and emotion components. What’s important here is what the text says about how these correlate to each other: “If a spell’s components line lists a somatic component, that spell instead requires an emotion component when cast by psychic spellcasters, and if it has a verbal component, it instead requires a thought component when cast by psychic spellcasters.”

This tells us that psychic spells are still using components; they’re just using ones which introduce different possible interferences to casting spells. Specifically, spells with emotion components can’t be cast when under the effect of a non-harmless emotion or fear effect, and spells with a thought component have all of their concentration DCs increased by 10 unless the spellcaster spends a move action focusing their mind immediately before casting. The text also notes that there are special metamagic feats to alleviate these restrictions, just as there are for verbal and somatic components.

At a glance it might look like these limitations are easier than traditional verbal or somatic components, but if we think about it that’s really not the case. After all, being affected by non-harmless emotion or fear spells is hardly something that happens less often over a character’s adventuring career than being grappled. Likewise, you’re likely to make concentration checks far more often than you are to be affected by an area of magical silence. So in this regard these aren’t really problems.

What’s more notable – and only obliquely covered in the psychic magic rules – is that psychic spellcasting doesn’t need inexpensive material components; only expensive ones, and focus components, are required. Moreover, it indirectly indicates that psychic spells can be cast in armor (mostly by way of saying that it’s not subject to effects specific to arcane magic, such as armor’s arcane spell failure chance).

So how can we represent all of this in Eclipse?

While the swapping of verbal and somatic components for thought and emotion components would seem to indicate that this is simply an alteration of the Components limitation (p. 11), that isn’t the case, hence why armor can be freely used and minor material components aren’t necessary. In fact, this is a minor variation of the Conduct limitation, representing a high grade of personal mental discipline, similar to the faith-based aspect of divine spellcasting, though not focused around any religious traditions.

Sentimental Substitution: One often-overlooked aspect of psychic magic is that it allows for a tiny bit of flexibility where expensive material components (but not foci) are concerned: “When a spell calls for an expensive material component, a psychic spellcaster can instead use any item with both significant meaning and a value greater than or equal to the spell’s component cost. For example, if a spiritualist wanted to cast raise dead to bring her dead husband back from the grave, she could use her 5,000 gp wedding ring as the spell’s material component.”

Unlike the previous entries, this represents something above and beyond what most other forms of spellcasting normally can do. Components are still components, for example, but this ability allows for characters with it to have more options than those that don’t. As such, this one is going to actually have a cost associated with it, since greater flexibility represents an advantage under the game rules.

Being able to substitute another item of equal or greater value for an expensive material component, so long as it’s one of notable personal value, can be represented via Privilege for 3 CP. That’s not very costly, but then again this is only a minor bit of flexibility. Plenty of GMs, for example, seem to hand-wave changing 5,000 gp worth of coins into a 5,000 gp diamond for casting raise dead.

Undercasting: Psychic spellcasters can – when casting a spell that has multiple versions of a different spell level each (e.g. summon monster I, summon monster II, summon monster III, etc.) – choose to cast that spell and invoke a lower-level effect. “For example, a psychic spellcaster who adds ego whip III to his list of spells known can cast it as ego whip I, II, or III. If he casts it as ego whip I, it is treated in all ways as that spell; it uses the text and the saving throw DC for that spell, and requires him to expend a 3rd-level spell slot.”

This is, quite obviously, a rather poor ability. As written, the psychic caster is giving up a 3rd-level spell slot in order to use a 1st-level version of the 3rd-level spell in question, but there’s no reason given for why they’d want to do that. While there might be certain situations where you’d want to restrain the power of an effect you’ll unleash, there’s no inherent benefit presented in this example. At least when you cast summon monster III as though it was summon monster I you get extra creatures as a result.

Given just how poor of an option this is, the best way to represent undercasting in an Eclipse game is simply to throw it out in favor of metaspells (p. 30). As written, that requires that characters purchase the metaspells in question, but as with purchasing spells directly with Character Points (p. 11) you can instead simply have them be available in the setting for characters to buy (with gp), steal, discover, or otherwise acquire, though this should require some care on the GM’s part. Either way, this isn’t an option that should be directly tied to psychic spellcasting.

With that, all of the salient aspects of psychic magic have been covered. As we can see, not only is it not at all difficult to make use of this style of spellcasting under Eclipse, it’s not even that expensive to build a psychic spellcaster compared to their arcane or divine peers. The entire net cost is 3 CP for a tangential ability that, if not wanted, can be easily discarded while keeping the rest.

And that kind of character customization is what Eclipse is all about.

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 a levels’ worth of savings! You’ve now freed up a tremendous amount of CPs that can be spent elsewhere, which is where this ability’s value comes from.

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

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

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

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

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

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 are enacted is the main difference between thaumaturgy and dweomer, respectively, but that typically makes it no less challenging to invent eight new interrelated skills. Moreover, as the book notes, there should be a careful balance between skills that lend themselves to in-combat uses and out-of-combat uses.

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

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

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 studies 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 for Perform (sing) (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.

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 one-third 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!

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).

The Dark Young and the Restless

May 9, 2016

I mentioned several months ago how Overlord is one of my favorite light novel series out of Japan. This remains true, and with nine novels to date, I was quite excited to hear that the long-awaited tenth volume is releasing at the end of this month. To celebrate, I’m posting a conversion of one of the most powerful spells used in the series to date.

While I’ve tried to keep them minimal, please be aware that there are some spoilers here for later in the series.

My previous post on Overlord talked about how its magic system is heavily inspired by D&D Third Edition, having ten “tiers” of spells, metamagic, and even a skill-like “super tier” magic which is clearly epic-level spellcasting by another name. The story further clarifies that super-tier magic has certain rules and limitations for when it’s used. In effect, these are the world laws that are specific to using epic spells:

  1. Doing so is highly conspicuous, creating large rings of glowing sigils around the caster for several feet in every direction.
  2. The casting time for these spells is described as being lengthy (though there are cheap one-shot magic items that can make them near-instantaneous).
  3. After casting super-tier magic, there’s a “cool-down” period before another super-tier spell can be cast.
  4. This cool down period applies not only to the spellcaster, but to all allied characters as well.

This last point stretches suspension of disbelief, being rather “game-ist” in its lack of in-character reasoning for how it determines who an “allied” character is and why they can’t use super-tier magic because someone else in their party did. Amusingly enough, this is ignored due to the fact that, in the story, this magic is originally from an MMORPG anyway, making it something of a moot point.

In the Overlord anime, the only time we see super-tier magic being cast is when Ainz uses the spell fallen down (twice) during his battle with a brainwashed Shalltear. As far as spells go, it’s rather boring, simply being a massive-damage area-of-effect spell. While it’s strong enough to create a crater that’s several dozen feet in diameter, that’s about all that can be said about it.

A far more notable use of super-tier magic comes at the end of the ninth novel, when Ainz casts the spell Ia Shub-Niggurath – Sacrifice to the Black Harvest. With just that one spell, he kills an army of almost a quarter-million people.

More specifically, the spell causes 70,000 people to drop dead (actually more, if you count the horses), which serve as a “sacrifice” to summon five of the Dark Young of the Black Goat, which then begin rampaging unstoppably through the remaining soldiers. So what would such a spell look like in the d20 system? My guess is something like this:

IA SHUB-NIGGURATH – SACRIFICE TO THE BLACK HARVEST

Necromancy [death]

Spellcraft DC: 2,098

Components: V, S

Casting Time: 2 minutes

Range: 3,000 ft.

Area: 800-ft. radius burst

Duration: instantaneous and 20 minutes (see text)

Saving Throw: Fortitude partial

Spell Resistance: Yes

To Develop: 19,170,000 gp; 384 days; 766,800 XP. Seeds: slay (DC 25), summon (DC 14). Factors: change from target to area (20-ft. radius; +10), increase range by 900% (+18), increase duration by 900% (+18), increase area by 3,900% (+156), +37 CR creature (+74), aberration type (+10), four additional creatures (x8), increase casting time by 1 minute (-2), requires 10,000 Hit Dice of creatures to be slain for each creature summoned (ad hoc -500).

When this spell is cast, each creature of 80 Hit Dice or less within the area of effect must succeed on a Fortitude save or die. On a successful save, a creature takes 3d6+10 points of damage instead. For each 10,000 Hit Dice worth of creatures slain by this spell, 1 Dark Young of the Black Goat will be summoned, to a maximum of 5 Dark Young.

A Dark Young is a mountain-sized conglomerate of mouths and tentacles that moves on five stubby legs. It cannot speak, but makes a bleating sound from its many mouths. It has the statistics of a devastation centipede, with the following changes:

  • The creature type is aberration.
  • Instead of one bite attack it may make up to 6 slam attacks per round, all as primary natural attacks that deal 20d10+11 damage.
  • Reach 60 ft.
  • Intelligence 3.
  • Replace the poison special ability with trample (20d10+16 damage, DC 85).

Figuring out the base statistics to use for the Dark Young took some eyeballing. In the novels, the level system for characters tops out at level 100. At this level, characters that use super-tier magic can cast four such spells per day. In the d20 system, where you can cast one epic level spell per day for every 10 ranks in the correct skill (and can have total ranks equal to your level +3), this means that level 100 characters, such as Ainz, are somewhere between levels 37 and 46. Normally I’d presume that Ainz’s incredible prowess would put him near the top of this range, but it’s more convenient to place him at level 40, since that sets a baseline of dividing the levels by 0.4 to come up with their d20 equivalent.

In the novel, the Dark Young are described as being creatures that are “above level 90,” and that have no powerful special abilities but are extremely tough. Given that, devastation vermin in general, and the CR 39 devastation centipede in particular, seemed like a perfect fit (albeit after a few changes).

Of course, the casting DC for this spell is eye-poppingly high to the point where it’s essentially impossible to cast. Even positing that Ainz is a level 40 character, this spell is likely far beyond his reach. While we could tweak the spell’s parameters (likely dumping a lot of the extended range, as well as some of the extended duration, and piling up more mitigating factors), it’s probably far easier – and more effective – to convert the entire spell.

More specifically, we’re going to use Eclipse: The Codex Persona and The Practical Enchanter to rebuild this from the ground up as a high-level spell.

In order to do that, we’ll want to take a look at each of the spell’s components separately. Luckily, the epic-level writeup above nicely lays out (via the two spell seeds used in its “to develop” line) that there are two basic effects going on here: the sacrifice, and the summons.

The sacrifice is essentially a finger of death (level 7) spell whose area can affect an entire battlefield (+8), and its range extended from close to extreme (+3). That’s +11 levels of metamagic, but since they’ll be built into the spell we can subtract 20% of that cost, for a +9 modifier, making a level 16 spell.

The summoning is an instance of grandiose summoning (Eclipse p. 125). Since this spell is summoning specific creatures, rather than having a list of creatures that the caster can choose from – and since said creatures are CR 39 – that makes this a 21st-level spell. We’ve already paid to extend the spell’s range (e.g. when we combine the sacrifice part of the spell with this one), so we don’t need to do that again. Finally, we can lower the spell level by 1 due to changing its 1 round casting time to 1 minute.

So that leaves us with a 16th- and a 20th-level spell. As per Lerandor’s Rule from page 116 of The Practical Enchanter – it takes 2 spells of level “N” to equal 1 spell of level “N + 1” – combining these gives us a 21st-level spell. Finally, we’ll throw back in the limitation that you need to slay at least 10,000 Hit Dice worth of creatures for each Dark Young summoned, presuming that that’s worth another -1 spell level (that might seem far less generous than the -500 to the Spellcraft DC in the epic spell writeup above. However, the net effect is the same; both are an overall minor reduction to a stratospheric requirement to cast).

As such, we end up with a 20th-level spell which looks like the following:

Ia Shub-Niggurath – The Sacrifice to the Black Harvest; conjuration, necromancy, transmutation (summoning) [death]; level 20; components V, S; casting time 1 minute; range extreme (800 ft. + 80 ft./level); Target 1 battlefield and 1d4+1 Dark Young (see below); duration instantaneous and 1 min./level (D) (see below); Saving Throw Fort partial; Spell Resistance yes.

When this spell is cast, each creature within the area of effect must succeed on a Fortitude save or die. On a successful save, a creature takes 3d6+25 points of damage instead. For each 10,000 Hit Dice worth of creatures slain by this spell, 1 Dark Young of the Black Goat will be summoned, to a maximum of 1d4+1 Dark Young.

One its face, this doesn’t seem like it’s done very much to make this spell more feasible for actual use. After all, what’s the practical difference between a Spellcraft DC in the low thousands and a spell level that’s in the low twenties? For an epic-level character, however, the latter is going to be far easier to reach than the former, particularly if using the Eclipse rules rather than a strict 3.0/3.5 build.

Henry’s Hardcore Heroics

April 23, 2016

Earlier in the week, some friends and I managed to catch Hardcore Henry on the last night of its theatrical run. No one else was in the theater with us, giving us free reign to whoop and holler while the movie was playing. This turned out to be fortunate, because this movie was so over-the-top, so absolutely insane in its first-person action scenes, that keeping quiet would have been an exercise in futility anyway.

Needless to say, we absolutely loved it.

Of course, being a nerd of considerable proportions, I can’t think of impressive or interesting characters from fiction without wanting to quantify what they can do. Since role-playing games in general – and Eclipse: The Codex Persona in particular – are the best ways of doing that, I naturally wrote up stats for the movie’s titular protagonist. (Some mild spoilers for the film are below.)

Hardcore Henry, ECL 5 Implacable Hero

Cyber-Soldier (63 CP/+1 ECL race)

  • +4 Str (24 CP).
  • +4 Dex (24 CP).
  • +4 Con (24 CP).
  • Bonus Feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized for half-cost/skills only (3 CP).
  • Speak Language and Read/Write Language (2 CP).
  • Immunity/Endurance (common/minor/major) (2 CP).
  • +1 BAB (6 CP).
  • Proficient with all simple and martial weapons (9 CP) and small arms (6 CP).
  • Martial Arts (3 CP).
  • +1 AC (dodge bonus) (6 CP).
  • 1d10 Hit Die (14 CP).

This entire race is specialized for one-halt cost/need to have a charged power cell without which they can only function for a half-hour before dying, can have their brain hacked to block or implant memories as well as upload malware into systems they connect to, have their cyborg nature revealed on mechanical scans or if they take sufficient damage (e.g. half their hit points or more).

The use of Speak Language and Read/Write Language here is to explain why, when the characters speak Russian, we see subtitles in a movie that’s entirely from Henry’s point of view – he’s actually seeing those subtitles! If not using the d20 Modern skills, go ahead and remove the Read/Write Language listing; it won’t actually change the net CP total for this race.

Available Character Points: 120 (level 4 base) + 12 (levels 1 and 3 feats) + 6 (bonus feat) + 10 (disadvantages) = 148 CP.

Henry’s disadvantages are Accursed (Henry cannot speak, never having received his voice modulator), History (presumably there’s a backstory for how Henry ended up where he was at the beginning of the movie), and Hunted (the course of events in the film pretty much define this disadvantage).

Ability Scores (32-point buy)

Ability Score Base Racial Bonus Level Bonus Total
Strength 14 (6 points) +4 18 (+4)
Dexterity 16 (10 points) +4 20 (+5)
Constitution 15 (8 points) +4 +1 (4th level) 20 (+5)
Intelligence 12 (4 points) 12 (+1)
Wisdom 10 (2 points) 10 (+0)
Charisma 10 (2 points) 10 (+0)

Unlike most d20 Modern characters, Henry receives a 32-point buy instead of the usual 25. This is because he’s just that hardcore, going through a very tough adventure solo (save for a recurring NPC helping out).

Basic Abilities (99 CP)

  • 4d10 Hit Dice (24 CP).
  • +4 BAB (24 CP).
  • Fort +4, Ref +4, Will +1 (27 CP).
  • 24 skill points (24 CP).

Superhuman Determination (15 CP)

  • Acrobatics (6 CP).
  • Action Hero/Stunts (6 CP).
  • Reflex Training/when a ranged weapon runs out of ammunition, specialized for one-half cost/may only take a move action, only to reload (3 CP).

The use of Action Points over the course of the film is likely to be extremely high. Henry is doubtlessly buying multiple instances of Luck, Grant of Aid, Block, etc.

Hardcore to the Extreme (34 CP)

  • Stoic with Ferocity (9 CP).
  • Berserker with Enduring and +8 Bonus Uses and Controlled (21 CP). Odinpower and Odinmight, corrupted for two-thirds cost/requires adrenaline injections (4 CP).

Henry’s use of Berserker will normally grant +2 Str, +2 Dex, +4 Con. When using a surge of adrenaline, these will rise to +6 Str, +6 Dex, +6 Con.

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 20 (2d10 at 1st level) + 16 (3d10) + 25 (Con bonus) = 61 hp.
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • Init: +5 (Dex bonus).
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +4 (base) +5 (Con bonus) = +9.
    • Ref: +4 (base) +5 (Dex bonus) = +9.
    • Will: +1 (base) +0 (Wis bonus) = +1.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) +1 (dodge) +5 (Dex bonus) = AC 16, touch 16, flat-footed 10.
  • Attacks:
    • Melee: +5 (BAB) +4 (Str bonus) = +9.
    • Ranged: +5 (BAB) +5 (Dex) = +10.
  • Total skill points: 24 (24 CP) + 7 (Int bonus) + 7 (racial bonus) = 38 skill points.
Skills Ranks Ability Score Bonuses Total
Balance 2 ranks +5 Dex +7
Climb 2 ranks +4 Str +6
Demolitions 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Disable Device 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Drive 2 ranks +5 Dex +7
Escape Artist 2 ranks +5 Dex +7
Hide 1 rank (2 points) +5 Dex +6
Intimidate 1 rank (2 points) +0 Cha +1
Jump 2 ranks +4 Str +6
Knowledge (tactics) 2 ranks +1 Int +3
Listen 1 rank (2 points) +0 Wis +1
Move Silently 1 rank (2 points) +5 Dex +6
Navigate 1 rank (2 points) +1 Int +2
Search 1 rank (2 points) +1 Int +2
Spot 1 rank (2 points) +0 Wis +1
Survival 2 ranks +0 Wis +2
Swim 2 ranks +4 Str +6
Treat Injury 2 ranks +0 Wis +2
Tumble 2 ranks +5 Dex +7

Henry’s class skills are the twelve skills on the above table which have their ranks bought at a 1:1 skill points. The others are cross-class skills.

Other than noting his racial ability to strike for 1d4 + Str bonus points of lethal damage, the above listing doesn’t go into what weapons Henry typically uses. That’s because he changes them quite rapidly over the course of the film, using pistols, automatic rifles, shotguns, a katana, a grenade launcher, and quite a bit more over the course of the movie!

Further Development

Henry’s stats match his depiction in the movie, being a character with incredible physical abilities but very little else. Given that he actually managed to survive the film, and utterly annihilate the bad guys who were gunning for him, Henry might be able to focus on some non-combat abilities going forward.

…unless, of course, there’s a sequel.

Thaumaturgical Enchantment

April 2, 2016

Thaumaturgy (and dweomer, its statistically-identical discipline) is one of several new d20 magic systems introduced in Eclipse: The Codex Persona (pg. 100-106). More specifically, it’s one of the magic systems that’s based around skills, giving that particular d20 subsystem some much-needed teeth.

In thaumaturgy, a particular magical discipline is divided into eight sub-disciplines, each of which has its own associated skill. If a practitioner of that style of magic wants to create an effect, then he has a make a successful skill check with the relevant sub-discipline (and pay the associated cost), and on a success the spell is cast.

There’s actually a bit more to it than that, but that’s the basic outline of how the system works.

The best part of this style of magic (at least to me) is that coming up with the eight associated skills for each particular discipline is something the player does. That means that each player is likely to come up with a different set of particulars, so that even the same theme will have different particulars depending on who uses it. Between that and that the effects generated are free-form, this means that no two users of thaumaturgy will be alike.

To whit, below is a sample field of thaumaturgy, based around a particular type of enchantment.

Enchantment

Manipulating emotions is a particularly insidious way of controlling others. Rather than subverting someone’s will, enchantments change how they feel about things while leaving their responses intact. The results can often be profoundly confusing, if not disturbing, for the victim long after the actual effect has ended. Wielding such invasive magic can come with a high price, however; few people can bring themselves to fully trust someone who can tamper with the most intimate parts of them.

  • Anger: Creating not only surges of adrenaline-fueled rage, this magic can also induce lasting hatreds and deep enmities. This can also curse an individual or location to become an object of scorn for certain groups, or even – at high levels – for everyone.
  • Anticipation: The opposite of surprise, anticipation causes something to seem to be more noteworthy than it otherwise would be. Not only can this boost situational awareness, granting combat bonuses and tactical insights, but it can be used to grant insight into mysteries and dilemmas that have no obvious solutions.
  • Apathy: Not just boredom, apathy can be the complete lack of an emotional response. It can negate most emotion-based magic, as well as shield from pain or alignment-based effects. At the higher levels, this can be used to induce catatonia or hibernation.
  • Fear: Not just immediate panic, this type of magic can produce anything from low-grade anxiety to bouts of fear so strong as to be lethal. This magic is often placed on an area, causing it to be avoided by the locals.
  • Joy: Bringing forth happiness can not only counter fear and despair, but also creates powerful bravery and morale-boosting effects. This particular field of magic can become highly addictive to those that are regularly subjected to it.
  • Love: This creates any sort of positive fascination. It can range from basic charm effects to powerful obsessions. Ironically, actual love is very difficult to create, and tends to be short-term.
  • Sadness: Feelings of loss can be used to sap a person’s will to fight, saddling them with morale penalties or even forfeiting actions as they lose the will to carry on. Severe sadness effects can cause a target to become suicidal.
  • Surprise: Surprise deals with being unaware of something, resulting in penalties to reactions. This can also be used to make parts of the immediate area seem subconsciously “unimportant” to the point of being unnoticed, while stronger spells make it so that key connections and revelations are overlooked or ignored.

As with all free-form systems of magic, what’s above are merely suggestions. The ultimate arbitrators of what can be used with any particular system of magic are the player’s imagination and the GM’s administration.

Baby Got Backlash

March 27, 2016
Flurry Heart

Cutest engine of destruction EVAR!

The premiere of the sixth season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic introduces baby Flurry Heart, the daughter of Princess Cadence and Shining Armor. It also reintroduces a particular quirk that infant unicorns – or, in this case, infant alicorns – have in the show: that they’ll manifest powerful magic at random.

This idea was first brought up with the introduction of the Cake twins, way back in the show’s second season. While it makes for some amusing antics, and creates the conflict in the current season’s premiere, this particular quirk of unicorn physiology is somewhat awkward to model in d20 terms. As Thoth put it:

Even counting Twilight Sparkle as an exception, Pumpkin Cake can break chains, dimension door or teleport, phase through matter, move and animate objects, and fly around – at one month old. In the comics, Sweetie Belle, who certainly doesn’t seem to be a magical genius or exceptionally powerful, accidentally transforms half the ponies of Ponyville into animate fruit, apparently irresistibly. Yes, that seems to be mostly cosmetic (and so could be considered an illusion or a rather minor transformation rather than a major one) – but it’s still pretty impressive for someone who can barely levitate a broom.

Characters that get weaker as they grow up don’t fit into d20 as easily as most. Sure, you can just handwave it in a lot of games – but even if child PC’s are uncommon, kids are very common indeed. It makes it kind of hard to raise tension with a monster attacking a village if the smaller local kids panic-response can be expected to include blasting it with horrific spells. Given that that doesn’t seem to happen, it seems likely that very young unicorns only have mighty magical powers when it’s cute and funny for the audience.

Now, at least part of this problem is solved in the latest episodes, since there’s a line that Sunburst rather off-handedly (off-hoofedly?) tosses out when discussing what spells to use to solve the problems that Flurry Heart’s random magic has created:

“…and a little Fledgling’s Forbearance for the parents… Heh. That should curb the little one’s power fluctuations.”

Those two sentences help to provide a great deal of needed context with regards to how pony society deals with this problem. A spell designed to safely curtail the random discharges of magic that baby unicorns experience is one of those things that not only makes sense in-and-of itself, but helps to explain why, for example, Pumpkin Cake doesn’t seem to be running amok anymore.

But while that provides for an in-universe explanation for how this particular problem is dealt with, it doesn’t answer the question of how we’d model it in the first place. The underlying issues that make this difficult to manage in a d20 game (what with baby unicorns being, at least temporarily, stronger than the adults, and their magic being more disastrous than dangerous) are still present.

To answer the first problem, I’m of the opinion that the best way to model this is via a template. Since templates are a discrete aspect of a stat block, and can be added on top of a character, they can also be removed from said character (even if that is much more rare). Hence, we can simply create a template that includes whatever mechanics we’ll use, with the condition that it’s removed as the baby unicorn grows older (or has the appropriate spell cast on them).

Insofar as the second issue – that these magic surges tend to be troublesome more than truly hazardous (though they can be that too) – we’ll just make that into an aspect of the magic itself. That’s not particularly hard because only NPCs are going to have this template anyway, and so if we introduce a random element into how their magic works, that just creates more latitude for the GM.

In d20 terms – using Eclipse: The Codex Persona, of course – the result would probably look something like this:

Wild Child template (9 CP/+0 ECL)

  • 4d6 mana with Unskilled Magic (24 CP), specialized and corrupted for increased effect/caster level is equal to the user’s highest mental ability score (Int, Wis, or Cha) and maximum spell level is equal to the user’s lowest mental ability score, spells cast do not need to meet caster level minimums; subject to involuntary random spellcasting, when a spell is cast roll 1d6 – on a 1-2 the spell functions as intended, on a 3-4 the spell’s parameters (e.g. effects, targets, duration, etc.) are randomized, and on a 5-6 a different spell is cast instead.
  • Rite of Chi with +4 Bonus Uses, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/does not allow for additional uses of Rite of Chi at the cost of negative levels, requires at least a short nap to use (4 CP).

In addition to what’s above, the entire template is specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/this template can only be applied to a character at the “infant” life stage (level -2), and is automatically removed when they advance to “child” (level -1), or if a casting of fledgling’s forbearance spell is used on them.

Given that it’s a spell with no applications beyond removing this template, there’s not really any need to write up fledgling’s forbearance. At most, we’d only need to know its spell level, which I’d presume is 1st.

With a total cost of 9 CP, this template is one that’s fairly cheap to apply for what it offers. Of course, the cost is somewhat academic anyway, as there’s really no way to apply this to any character that’s remotely likely to be a PC. But if you want to make sure that your plot hook has stats, this should do the trick.