Saturday, August 7, 2010

Expanded Class Feature 3: Soulknife

Class: Soulknife
Source: Expanded Psionics Handbook

This is the first class I’m going through from the Expanded Psionics Handbook, but it’s not really a psionic class. It gets a couple power points, but no powers, which is about like saying a class gets one spell slot, but no spells. So, it's usable with about zero knowledge of psionics.

Fluffy Bits:
You have a knife. It’s made of your soul/mind/chakra/generic metaphysical component of self. It’s for stabbing people.

And, that’s about it. Like the Fighter or the Rogue, this class isn’t really tied to any strong fluff baggage. It’s really whatever you make of it. The class is mainly a way of giving a character a magical bent in combat without making them a spellcaster.

Cruncy Bits:
You have a knife. It’s made of your soul. And that’s about it, but I get ahead of myself.

The class has a d10 hit die, medium BAB, strong will and reflex saves, 4+in skill points per level with a list comparable to the Monk’s, along with proficiency in simple weapons, light armor, shields, and their own mindblades.

Right off the bat, we run into one of the class’s biggest problems. What is it? Is it supposed to be a frontline combat class? Is it supposed to be a secondary skirmisher? The d10 hit die suggests one, the medium BAB and skills suggest the other, and the class features themselves are similarly indecisive.

Your primary class feature is your mindblade, a weapon made of generic magicness that you can summon and dismiss at will. We’ll get back to it shortly.

Other than that, you get Weapon Focus and Greater Weapon Focus for free. You get two power points, mainly to let you use psionic feats. You get Psychic Strike, which lets you spend a move action to charge your mind blade with bonus damage for your next attack; this scales from 1d8 at level 3 to 5d8 at level 19. The problem there is that if you spend that move action, you can’t make a full attack, so most likely it’s really just a bonus to your first attack’s damage, and not a very impressive one at that when compared to something like Sneak Attack, which is much greater and can be applied to an entire full attack. Also, creatures that aren’t alive or are immune to mind-affecting abilities are immune to Psychic Strike, for some reason.

Later, they get Speed of Thoughs- a bonus feat that amounts to +10’ to their movement speed- the equivalent of Whirlwind Attack, and at level 13, they get a feature called Knife to the Soul, perhaps their most unique and dangerous feature. It allows them to swap out those mediocre damage die from Psychic Strike for ability damage to mental stats, so they can deal 3-5 damage to intelligence, wisdom, or charisma. Remember, any stat reduced to zero renders the subject dead, comatose, or paralyzed, so this is a way to bypass some enemies’ hit points entirely. Still, three points of mental damage at level 13 isn’t earthshaking.

And then, there’s the mindblade. It starts out as a shortsword, and later you can change it into either a bastard sword or a longsword, or you can split it into two mindblades, reducing the enhancement bonus on each by one. You can throw your mindblade starting at level 2, but can’t make a full attack throwing it until level 17, nearly making it a capstone, and perhaps the lamest capstone ever.

The weapon scales from being a +1 weapon at level 4 to being a +5 weapon at level 20. You can start applying weapon enhancements to it as early as level six, ranging from +1 to +4 in enhancements (for a total of +9-equivalent weapon by level 20) and you can change the enhancements through eight hours of meditation, but you have to pick them from a fairly short list, and that list isn’t very good.

This is probably the class’s biggest failing. Their primary ability is that they have a free magic weapon, but every melee character is going to have a magic weapon. If that weapon is going to be their primary ability, it had better be one awesome weapon. However, at level 4, wealth by level is 5400 gold. A +1 weapon costs about 2300 g. A Fighter probably has a +1 sword already, along with armor and shield. At level 20, wealth by level is a whopping 760,000 gold, which makes that 81,000g-equivalent +9 mindblade less than spectacular since the Fighter’s probably walking around with a +10 sword or close to it. What’s more, at that level, the +10 sword probably has +9 from various enchantments making it a +1 lotsofstoff sword, then the party Cleric or Wizard casts Greater Magic Weapon to bring its enhancement up to +5. Meanwhile, the Mindblade’s enhancement is already +5 meaning it can’t benefit, so effectively, you may as well be getting a +5-equivalent weapon. You could say that the big benefit of the class is the ability to change the enhancements on that weapon, but the list of available enhancements is pretty crummy.

And that’s the class in its entirety. Really, all it gets is a sword, but without the combat chops to really back it up or any secondary perks like Sneak Attack or Skirmish to back up its lighter frame.

Really, just build like nearly any melee character. Physical stats are important. Mental stats really aren’t. Dexterity’s more important than it is for a Fighter since you only get light armor and both stealth and detection skills appear on your list, but don’t think you can go full-on skill monkey.

The problem with multiclassing is, your main feature is your mindblade and you slow progression if you multiclass, so it’s something you’ll have to keep to a minimum.

Some of your strongest enhancements, like Soulbreaker, only trigger on a critical hit, so even though you don’t get any 18-20 crit weapons, it may be worth your while to invest in a critical hit build, possibly splitting your mindblade in order to dual-wield for more attacks (and thus more chances to crit) and using the usually underwhelming Power Critical for a bonus on confirmation rolls.

Your list of available enhancements is short, so know them well and use them as best you can. Wounding’s constitution damage is always welcome, since the more hit die an enemy has, the bigger the impact of constitution loss. This also goes well with a dual-wielder, for more attacks, more hits, and more constitution damage, and Mindcrusher can really sap psionic characters dry by inflicting power point damage.

However, mainly, I’d suggest talking with your DM about implementing some Soulknife fix or another. Google should reveal many. My ad hoc version would be to grant the Soulknife full BAB, scale the mindblade from +1 to +10 from level 2 to level 20, working like normal weapons in that you get a +X equivalent weapon, so at level 4 when you’d get a +2 mindblade, you can have a +2 enhancement bonus or convert it to a +1 flaming mindblade. Then, for the whole nine yards, grant martial weapon proficiency, let you turn the mindblade into any weapon you’re proficient with (possibly including ranged weapons), and remove the restriction on the enhancements that can be placed on it, then maybe something to change weapon materials (though that may be worth a feat). So, if you know you’re gonna be fighting an undead horde, you can turn your sword from a +1 keen, wounding falchion into a +1 undead bane disruption maul, and that’s entirely appropriate. A class built around the notion of, “I have an awesome weapon,” and that’s all they get, then that had better be the most awesome weapon in the group most of the time.

Stealth and detection skills
Gets a free weapon
Can inflict ability damage with no save

That weapon is pretty crummy
Limited weapon enhancements
Poor focus keeps it from doing anything particularly well

No, I didn’t say much about this class, simply because there’s not a whole lot to say.

Remaining classes: Ardent, Artificer, Binder, Crusader, Divine Mind, Dread Necromancer, Erudite, Incarnate, Lurk, Psion, Psychic Rogue, Psychic Warrior, Soulborn, Swordsage, Totemist, Warblade, Wilder.

Next Week: Psion

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