Saturday, September 18, 2010

Expanded Class Feature 9: Divine Mind

Class: Divine Mind
Source: Complete Psionic

How it Works:
I’ve worked up an all-purpose ‘How it Works’ article for psionics as a whole, which can be found here.

Okay, back to psionics. This time, we look at the absolute worst psionic class out there (with the caveat that Soulknife really doesn’t count) in my quest to get all the crappy classes out of the way first so that I’m left with the good stuff.

This is the first class from Complete Psionic, which is widely regarded as a piece of trash that overly relies on reprinting old material from XPH with minor (and often unnecessary and often ignored) updates paired with mediocre original content. Which isn’t to say it’s all crap, particularly since there aren’t many other sources of psionic material, but it’s still not a well-made book.

Anyways, there’s actually a bit of history behind the Divine Mind, or at least rumors that I’ve heard. Apparently, Ardent and Divine Mind were originally meant to be one class, but they were deemed to be a bit much, and so they were split. Ardent won out of that divorce, though like the Shadowcaster, on closer inspection, Divine Mind isn’t quite as bad as I thought going in, but it’s still a mess.

Full disclosure: I’ve never actually really used this class for anything. And for good reason.

Fluffy Bits:
The Divine Mind is a psionic Paladin without the alignment restriction and less code-related rubbish. And… that’s really it. Or perhaps a Favored Soul would be a better comparison? Basically, they channel god juice to get stuff done.

Crunchy Bits:
Skeleton! Medium BAB, d10 hit die, strong fort/will, 2+ skill points from a crappy list, martial weapons, heavy armor, shields.

Medium BAB and a d10 hit die. The only other WotC creation I can think of that has that frame is the Soulknife.

For features, the Divine Mind has three things going on; mantles, auras, and powers. While with regards to fluff, they’re psionic Paladins, with regards to mechanics, they’re more like psionic Bards or Marshals, just with crappy skills.

First, mantles. These are similar to domains for Clerics. They have up to nine powers, and an associated special ability (though mantle abilities tend to be comparable to half a feat rather than a full feat like domain abilities tend to be). Mantles are a feature exclusive to the Divine Mind and the Ardent.

However, there’s one big thing that separates mantles from domains; the Ardent and Divine Mind don’t have spell lists. Period. Instead, they can only select powers from their respective mantles. To make up for this restriction, they get more mantles than Clerics get domains. The Ardent gets six mantles over fifteen levels, gaining three in their first two levels, and the Divine Mind gets… three. One at first-level, one at sixth-level, and one at twelfth-level. Also, unlike Ardents who derive their powers from personal philosophies and may choose whichever mantles they please, the Divine Mind is linked to a deity and has her mantle choices restricted by her deity in much the same way as a Cleric. There’s a page dedicated to listing mantles for PHB, Forgotten Realms, and Eberron deities, giving each four mantles in their portfolio. You get three. So your choices are very nearly made for you unless you’re playing in Eberron and can worship the entire Sovereign Host as a single entity gaining access to any of their domains/mantles that you please.

Then, there’s power progression. This one is just bizarre. They go up to sixth-level powers, sure, but they don’t gain access to first-level powers until level five, then don’t get sixth-level powers until level 20. They only get nine powers, ever, and only get 62 power points by level 20, in comparison to the Psychic Warrior- one of the other main manifesting classes that cap out at 6th-level powers- who has 127 power points and 20 powers by level 20. Manifesting is based on wisdom.

Then, there are auras, which are similar to Marshal auras or Dragon Shaman auras or Bardic Music. They start out affecting allies within a whopping five feet and the range increases five feet at a time up to fifty feet at level twenty. This means that at low levels, when you don’t have any powers at all yet thus making your one mantle and its half feat pretty much a joke, when all you really have to set yourself apart is your aura… it only works within five feet. Blah.

You can only have one aura active at any given time (scaling to two or three at a time later) and changing auras takes an hour’s meditation (falling all the way to a swift action by level 18). There are no use-per-day restrictions on auras; you can keep them up all day long.

Divine Minds start with three generic auras- one granting a 1-5 point bonus to AB (scaling with level), one that does the same for AC, and one that grants a +2-6 point bonus to Spot, Listen, and initiative (scaling with level).

In addition to the generic auras, Divine Minds get an additional aura option with every mantle they have. All three of them. Here’s the problem. Most of them are utterly mediocre and a lot of them don’t scale. For example, +2 on bluff checks made to feint! Woo! Or a flat +1 bonus to damage, but only if the target’s already wounded. Or a +2 to overcome spell resistance, but only against outsiders. Admittedly, some are pretty good, like DR1/- scaling to DR5/- at level 20. Admittedly, DR5/- is pretty cruddy at high levels unless you’re facing hordes of nickel-and-dime mooks, but being able to constantly grant that to the whole party at once is nice, and at first level, DR 1/- is actually meaningful.

However, since you have so few mantle options, already restricted by deity, and they’re your only source of a spell list, there’s just so much stacked on mantle/deity selection in order to simply not suck eventually. You need all your limited supply of powers and auras to be top-notch at all times in order to just be decent, but that’s nigh impossible given the constraints.

Oh, and there is a series of feats- Tap Mantle, Don Mantle, and Extra Aura- that can grant you access to the power list, granted ability, and aura of another mantle. The feats must be taken in order. Unless you’re worshipping a pantheon, if you go that route, these three feats essentially grant you access to a fourth mantle that you chose not to take in the first place because it’s the least useful mantle your deity offers. Woo.

Oh, and they get Divine Grace as a Paladin at level four.

Put the Divine Mind side-by-side with a Bard, and it comes up short on almost every level. Divine Mind auras don’t really keep up with the more versatile Bardic Music, their manifesting is less effective and far more constrained than bardic casting, and that’s really all they have; no skills, no secondary perks, just a bigger hit die and heavy armor/weapons. Meh.

But, the class is salvageable. First and foremost, it needs the same power point/power level progression as the game’s other two manifesters who cap out at 6th-level powers- the Lurk and the Psychic Warrior. Powers available from level one, power points topping out at 127. I’d also give them two mantles at level one, for a total of four (all their deity’s mantles), and a total of twelve powers (two per power level).

I’d also be open to stepping up some of the crappier, non-scaling auras to make them… well… stop being crappy.

Then, as more of an aesthetic move than anything, I’d probably switch them over to charisma-based manifesting. The Psychic Warrior’s already a medium BAB melee class that gets up to 6th-level powers, and it also shares company with the more casting-centric Ardent from whence it’s spawned; putting a little more distance between the two is a good thing. There’s room for a more melee-oriented charisma-based manifester to sit next to the Wilder. I’d also probably make the aura a flat 30’ aura, maybe bumping it up to 60’ at level 10 or 15, simply because the itty bitty aura sizes at low levels are very annoying.

There’s still the problem of having your power selection restricted by your mantle selection, usually resulting in a hideously crappy makeshift spell list, but that’s kind of a balancer to the class. It may be such a big deal, however, that tossing full BAB into the mix may be appropriate.

Divine Mind is pretty much a melee class. You don’t have the power point supply or power selection to be much of a caster, you don’t have skills, and while you could do archery in theory, it really doesn’t work out well unless the party’s built around you; your auras don’t reach very far, and they’re most useful on the front lines, so you need to be suitable for the front lines.

To that end, strength and constitution are your main stats, and you don’t want a penalty to dexterity. You need wisdom, of course, since it’s your casting stat, though it has extra importance here; you don’t have much of a power point pool, so you need all the bonus power points you can get. I probably wouldn’t raise it above 16, but it may be wise to pair that with a wisdom-boosting item for more power points. Your skill list sucks and you only really need Concentration, so you can dump intelligence. Charisma fuels Divine Grace, but you have a lot of other stat demands, so you may only be able to manage, like, a twelve in charisma if you’re not forced to dump it outright.

Also, a lot of your auras- including your three generic auras, which could well be your best- are morale bonuses that don’t stack with other morale bonuses. If your team has other significant sources of morale bonuses, you’re pretty much useless and should probably consider something else, like Psychic Warrior.

However, by and large, I’d almost classify this as a misfiled NPC class, the same category I put the Marshal, Healer, and Dragon Shaman in, though it’s not quite as bad. It’s not very good, can’t do much, and they’re mainly an aura-meister who can’t do much themselves. Not very interesting as PCs, but they can work as NPC leader units, particularly since aura types are really only any good when they have a group of allies of a type and size that PCs rarely have. If the party has two people in melee, one being the Divine Mind and the other the Rogue, then that +2 AB aura just isn’t as good as it is for the NPC leading a group of five gnolls and an ogre. Also, as an ally, Divine Mind tends not to be a glory class, so it’s a good ally to give to back up the party.

Buffing auras
Um... has powers, eventually, kinda...
Um… not much else

Very slow to start
Ridiculously small auras at low levels
Late and stunted casting
Lots of auras either don’t scale or outright suck
Mantles tremendously limit power selection

Remaining classes: Ardent, Artificer, Crusader, Dread Necromancer, Empyrean Monk, Erudite, Exorcist, Lurk, Muse, Occult Priest, Pact Warrior, Psychic Rogue, Psychic Warrior, Ravaged Soul, Rookblade, Soulborn, Swordsage, Soul Weaver, Spirit Binder, Templar, Totemist, Unbound Witch, Warblade, Warbinder.

Next Time: Probably Warblade. Really, this time.

Postscript: Due to the amount of time writing these things takes, some installments may shift to biweekly, depending on how much time and energy has to go into them. Some are quick, some aren't, and of course, sometimes life's busier than other times. This next installment's probably two weeks away.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Expanded Class Feature 8: Incarnate

Class: Incarnate
Source: Magic of Incarnum

How it Works:
I’ve worked up an all-purpose ‘How it Works’ article for incarnum classes as a whole, which can be found here.

This time, we crack open Magic of Incarnum and take a look at the definitive incarnum class, the Incarnate. Incarnum is the second-to-last alternate system to start work on, and probably the most obscure, so let’s go.

Fluffy Bits:
If you’ve read what incarnum is in the ‘How it Works’ article, then the bulk of the fluff here can be explained by simply explaining the class’ name. Incarnates have an alignment restriction, in that you must be neutral/good, neutral/evil, lawful/neutral, or chaotic/neutral. You can be a Good Incarnate, an Evil Incarnate, a Law Incarnate (who is contractually obligated to make at least one Judge Dredd reference in her lifetime), or a Chaos Incarnate. You can call these distinct classes in about the same way that you can call an Illusionist and an Enchanter different classes.

The Incarnate is, quite literally, the incarnation of a single alignment aspect, and through that alignment they can pull the associated aspect from the well of souls that is incarnum to create their soulmelds. So a Law Incarnate who makes an Incarnate Weapon is literally forging a sword made of cosmic-level justice and honor.

Ironically (and thankfully), Incarnates don’t have any sort of code of conduct binding them like the Paladin’s overbearing code. Just a clause that if your alignment changes, you lose class features.

And that’s really the long and short of it; the Incarnate is a paragon of their alignment that wields it as their tool.

Crunchy Bits:
As always, skeleton first. Low BAB, strong fortitude/will, d6 hit die, 2+ skill points per level, simple weapons, medium armor, shields.

It’s worth mentioning the skill list. You get seven skills. Three of them are Knowledge skills. Two are Craft and Profession. The last two are Spellcraft and Concentration, but meldshapers aren’t spellcasters. This is, quite possibly, the crappiest skill list in the entire game. Intelligence isn’t a major stat and you only get 2+ skill points per level, but a great many soulmelds give significant skill boosts that could make this class a decent skill monkey.

Anyways, as you should be able to tell from the low BAB and d6 hit die, the Incarnate is primarily a frontline melee class. Yes, I am being serious. Each of the meldshaping classes corresponds to one of the three core divine casters; Totemist to the Druid, Soulborn to the Paladin, and Incarnate to the Cleric. However, meldshaping doesn’t have the healing or the vast array of utility and support abilities. Really, they’re just personal buffs, so buff your hit points up, boost that AB, and wade into the fray. It’s a case of confused design, but it works.

Anyways, class features, starting with the incidentals. At level 1, you get an aura as a Cleric of your alignment and Detect [Opposed Alignment] at will. Meh.

At level 3, you get a +1 to your soulmelds’ essentia capacity, increasing to +2 at level 15. Considering soulmelds normally top out at 4 at level 18, that’s pretty big.

Also at level 3, you get Incarnum Radiance, which is boost based on your alignment; melee AB for law, AC for good, melee damage for evil, and movement speed for chaotic. The bonus scales from +1/+1/+2/+10’ to +5/+5/+10/+50’ by level 20. This works in a manner similar to rage, with a duration based on wisdom, and like rage is only usable a few times per day and it leaves you fatigued afterward (at least until level 17). This starts off as self-only, but you can share it with your allies at level seven, which is quite nice.

Next, you get Rapid Meldshaping, which lets you swap out a soulmeld a few times per day as a full-round action.

Then, you have your capstones. First, you become an outsider with your alignment subtype. Second (but more importantly), you have Perfect Meldshaper, a.k.a. asskicking mode. Once per day, for a number of rounds dependent on your wisdom modifier, all your soulmelds are filled to their essentia capacity. This is liable to effectively be equivalent to double your essentia or close to it. A real, meaningful capstone. There’s a rarity.

And then, we have the actual meldshaping. Incarnates get the best meldshaping abilities, though they are followed closely by Totemists. Their essentia pool grows from one to twenty-six. They gain access to the crown chakra at level two (earlier than the Totemist, though considering that’s when the Totemist gets their unique totem chakra and the crown chakra’s pretty underwhelming…) and they’re the only base class that can access the soul chakra (at level 19, where it’s actually not all that impressive). Otherwise, they gain access to chakras at the same rate as Totemists. Your supply of chakra binds scales from one at level two to five at level eighteen.

And of course, you have the soulmelds. You go from being able to shape two at a time at first-level to being able to shape nine at a time at 19th-level, though the number of soulmelds you can shape is also limited by your constitution score; you need 19 constitution to shape nine soulmelds. And on that note, the save DCs for your soulmelds’ effects are calculated as ten plus essentia invested plus your wisdom mod. In other words, complete trash that enemies will probably only fail on a natural one at higher levels.

Incarnate soulmelds lack the tighter central theme of the Totemist (and yes, I know I’m comparing a lot to a class I haven’t even reviewed yet, but… they’re really all there is to compare to), but you have a lot of them; more than any other class. Generally, these can be split three ways. You get a lot of skill boosters, which you can’t generally make the best use of single-classed unless they have good chakra binds, you have buff effects that can get your AB, HP, and the like up to the levels you need (which are pretty much your bread and butter) and incidental effects, like short-range flight/teleportation that really help round out your ability set. A lot of chakra bind effects fall in that last category, and they all come together to be pretty good and round you out quite well, but it’s not really good enough to truly justify twenty levels in this class as-is.

Today, we have a new section. The adaptations! A few of the older feature segments could have probably used this, most notably the Shadowcaster, and this will probably be a fairly regular addition in the future, as-needed.

I’d say WotC dropped the ball a bit on the Incarnate, but only a bit. In the Incarnate skeleton, they treat meldshaping with the same weight as full spellcasting, but it’s not at that level. Not even close. Incarnate is supposed to be the incarnum Cleric, but doesn’t get the Cleric skeleton when the Totemist gets the Druid skeleton.

Really, the Incarnate could a far more worthwhile class to take to level 20 (as opposed to being dipping fodder) if it had a Cleric’s medium BAB and maybe the d8 hit die and heavy armor. And some skill boosts would be nice, too. Nothing major, but maybe 4+ with the physical and diplomatic skills.

On the fluffy side, the D&D alignment system is an incoherent mess and encouraging it is rarely a good idea. A class so closely tied to alignment itself is… problematic, in all the same ways that alignment is already problematic. At the very least, I’d ease up a bit and allow, say, a lawful/good Good Incarnate, if only because the combination with Paladin is appropriate and attractive.

However, it’s easy enough to strip away the alignment aspects and instead make the Incarnate a manifestation of an ideal or an emotion, like love or rage, then either replace existing features or pick the most appropriate. For example, a Love Incarnate might be able to detect attraction and grant fast healing or temporary hit points with her Incarnum Radiance. A Rage Incarnate might swap out Incarnum Radiance for Barbarian Rage (and perhaps get Share Rage at level seven; probably not as useful as it sounds, especially in a normal group, but it could be cool).

Incarnate can also fairly easily fit the standard Cleric/Favored Soul mold, wielding the power of their deity, or be a more traditional arcane scholar who simply knows how to make these soulmelds through intensive study rather than being the physical embodiment of impossibly pure pureness.

My own experience with using Incarnates has pretty much fallen into three types. Those who don’t go past level four, those who multiclass out by level four, and those who are gestalt. In a standard game, it’s just never seemed worth it to go past level four because of that low BAB.

But… that’s really not a big deal; Incarnate multiclasses phenomenally well with almost anything, just take a 1-4 level dip. If you multiclass a skill monkey, your soulmelds boost skills and provide useful options like short-range flight. If you multiclass melee, Incarnate brings a plate full of buffs. And usually, “Never give up caster levels,” is nearly an axiom for casters, but the Sapphire Hierarch prestige class is essentially the incarnum theurge, advancing both meldshaping and divine magic at every level, and you can get in on one level of Law Incarnate with a few levels in nearly any divine caster. It doesn’t give you access to any chakra binds, but six soulmelds and an essentia pool of eleven (before feats, race choice, and items) on top of almost full Cleric or Archivist (or whatever) progression is nothing to balk at. In any of those cases, you pretty much just build as you would build the other side of the multiclass. There’s even a Soul Manifester in the Mind’s Eye web enhancement series which combines incarnum and psionics in much the same way as Sapphire Hierarch. It requires the ability to bind to a chakra, so you’ll either need to take a second level of Incarnate to get in or wait until sixth level to take the Open Least Chakra feat; I suggest the latter, to keep your power progression up.

Now, if there is a skeleton boost in place, Incarnate could well be worth taking to level twenty. In that case, constitution is a big deal; you need a constitution score of 19 to shape as many soulmelds as possible at higher levels. There’s also a feat, Expanded Soulmeld Capacity, which can increase the capacity of a single soulmeld by one… up to a maximum equal to your constitution modifier. That means, at the highest levels, you’d need a constitution score of 24 to get a single extra point of essentia in a single soulmeld. If the game’s expected to go to level 18+, it’s probably not worth it (though 24 isn’t horribly unreasonable with a magic item), but you can skip that feat. (Then again, at lower levels, that feat is awesome.)

In general, if you’re focusing more on tanking, you want to be on track for a constitution score of 20ish before magic items by level 20. If you’re focused more on murder, you want to be on track for a constitution score of 20ish after magic items by level 20. If you don’t expect to get that far, you still want a serious constitution score since you’re a front-line class with a d6 hit die.

Either way, odds are strength will be your main stat, since you have major troubles hitting people. Law Incarnate helps here with its AB boosts. Dexterity is, as always, something you don’t want a penalty in. Intelligence, you can outright dump; your skill list is garbage. Charisma can be dumped. And wisdom? While you don’t want a penalty to it, it doesn’t give you much.

For soulmelds, AC boosts can make you one of the few effective tanks. Vitality Belt is a must, eventually. It’s like Improved Toughness for every point of essentia you put into it (note: the bonus equals your meldshaper level, making this awesome for pure Incarnates and crap for multiclass incarnates), and you need the hit points. This thing can take you from dangerously squishy to one of the biggest sacks of hit points the party can ask for. AB-boosts are a godsend, though the best of them are Law Incarnate exclusives.

If there is no skeleton boost, but you’re still dead-set on pure Incarnate, there is a way at higher levels, if you incorporate psionic material. If you play as one of the psionic races, like Elan, or just play as an Azurin and spend your bonus feat on Wild Talent, you get a power point pool which allows you to become psionically focused and take psionic feats. One of these feats (which has another feat as a prereq) is Deep Impact, which lets you expend psionic focus to resolve a single melee attack as a touch attack. Unfortunately, it requires +5 BAB, so you’re not going to qualify until level 10 and without retraining, you’re not going to get it until level twelve. Add Psionic Meditation, which allows you to regain psionic focus as a move action, and you can take a single standard action attack as a touch attack per round, and against most foes, touch attacks are much easier to pull off, often laughably easy. Next, get a two-handed weapon like a spear and use Power Attack; you’re only getting one attack per round, so make it deal as much damage as possible. This works best with Evil Incarnate and its damage boosts. And in case you haven’t noticed, this route is highly feat-intensive, hinging on a combination of five feats, and doesn’t come together until high levels.

Another, easier option to consider is something I’d really only recommend for the Incarnate. The Book of Exalted Deeds’ Vow of Poverty. This feat basically means you forgo all material goods- including pretty much all gear- and instead gain a bunch of pluses that are supposed to approximate level-appropriate gear. For most classes, this is an extremely bad idea because, although the pluses are your bread and butter, the other magical effects like flight are the kinds of things you’re completely boned if you don’t have access to. However, the Incarnate’s soulmelds can emulate a great many magic item effects, and actually chakra binds tend to come into conflict with magic items anyways, so this is a two-fer. And it makes sense for a Good Incarnate.

Largest array of soulmelds
Largest essentia pool
Ready-made excuse for Judge Dredd references
Good tank (after very low levels)
Multiclasses spectacularly well

Crappy skills
Weak skeleton
Poor scaling
Chakra binds can conflict with magic items
Closely tied to alignment

Remaining classes: Ardent, Artificer, Crusader, Divine Mind, Dread Necromancer, Empyrean Monk, Erudite, Exorcist, Lurk, Muse, Occult Priest, Pact Warrior, Psychic Rogue, Psychic Warrior, Ravaged Soul, Rookblade, Soulborn, Swordsage, Soul Weaver, Spirit Binder, Templar, Totemist, Unbound Witch, Warblade, Warbinder.

Next Week: Divine Mind

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How it Works: Incarnum

This is a unified “How It Works” section for all incarnum-using classes. That’s Incarnate, Soulborn, and Totemist.

Incarnum comes from Magic of Incarnum, one of the later entries into the 3.5 library and one with fairly little support. Dragon Magic has a few more soulmelds, as do web supplements. I don’t know if Dragon Magazine ever put anything out, but really Magic of Incarnum has nearly all the incarnum material.

So, to start off, what is incarnum? It’s essentially cosmic soul stuff. Incarnum is the energy of all souls, whether they’re living, dead, or not-yet-born. Any mana analogue works, though.

Also, incarnum is blue.

There are a few vocabulary words to know when dealing with incarnum, and really, they’re the hardest part.

Soulmelds: These are the bread and butter of incarnum. Basically, a soulmeld is where you take a bit of incarnum and shaping it into a tool and melding it to your soul (hence the name) for a time. You can think of a soulmeld as a kind of phantom magic item, or a visible buff. Each is associated with a part of the body (those Cerulean Sandals go on your feet), and tend to manifest as ghostly body parts or equipment. They each have a certain benefit, like bonuses to skills, AC, or AB, or more interesting abilities like the ability to spit acid or fly short distances or inflict fire damage on foes who strike you in melee. These benefits improve via the next two vocabulary words. Soulmelds do not have levels, and all meldshaping classes gain access to all their soulmelds automatically. The number of soulmelds you can shape at a time are limited by your class level and your Constitution score.

Essentia: Personal soul energy. Mechanically, essentia’s just a pool of points that you shuffle around your soulmelds (or in some cases, feats and abilities) to improve your benefits. So, the Gorgon Mask increases your fortitude saves by one, and for every point of essentia you have invested in it, the bonus improves by one more. Essentia can be shuffled between your soulmelds as a free action once per round, letting you adapt to changing circumstances. So, when you really need to strangle somebody, you can shunt that essentia from your Gorgon Mask, losing the fortitude boost, to your Girallon Arms, gaining a bonus to grapple checks. Essentia can be gained from race or magic items, but it’s mainly a class feature. The maximum amount of essentia you can invest in a single place is limited by level, going from one at level one to four at level eighteen. Certain feats and class abilities can improve this, up to about seven or so.

Chakras: Every character already uses chakras. They just go by a different name; magic item slots. Normally, soulmelds don’t use item slots, so you can have a soulmeld associated with your throat and still use a magic amulet. However, as your level goes up, you open up chakras, letting you bind soulmelds to them. When you bind a soulmeld to a chakra, it becomes more powerful but uses up a magic item slot. So, for example, Mauling Gauntlets normally grants a bonus to strength checks that scales as you invest essentia. If you bind it to your hands chakra, it takes up a magic item slot but grants you an equivalent bonus to unarmed damage along with the benefits of Improved Unarmed Strike. Which chakras you can bind to and how many soulmelds you can bind are limited by class level.

And, with that vocabulary, that’s pretty much the bulk of it. Just get your eight hours’ rest, do your hour’s spell preparation- in this case, it’s shaping and binding soulmelds for the day- and go about your adventuring way shuffling around your essentia between your soulmeleds as needed. It’s a very simple system.

Characters who don’t take any levels in incarnum classes can still get in on the incarnum game. Shape Soulmeld lets you shape a single soulmeld, and it’s an awesome feat for filling in blanks if you ever have a feat to spare. Almost anyone can put it to use. The Azurin race are basically incarnum-infused humans who get a point of essentia instead of bonus skill points, and an Essentia Jewel is a cheap magic item that can get you a second point. So, if you’re planning a human Paladin of Kossuth (FR’s god of fire), you can go with an Azurin and spend a feat and a few gold to get Shape Soulmeld: Mantle of Flame so that anyone who hits you in melee takes 3d6 damage (2d6 before you hit level 6).

Incarnum has a lot going for it, but ultimately, it has one major flaw. It doesn’t really scale well. Essentia capacity goes up with level regardless of whether you take incarnum classes (though incarnum classes get a little more capacity than non). You get all your soulmelds at level one (or level four for Soulborn, but they suck). All you really get for leveling up is more essentia (which is admittedly very nice) and the higher-end chakra binds, which tend to be underwhelming for the number of levels you have to invest to get them.

On the other hand, incarnum makes for some great dips. 1-4 levels in Incarnate or Totemist get you a huge stack of soulmelds, some essentia to play with, and your basic chakra binds, and you can just multiclass out to some melee class or skill monkey or something with a nice sack of goodies. There are even a great many incarnum feats that are explicitly designed for multiclass incarnum-users, like Cobalt Rage (which you can invest essentia in for bonus damage while raging) or Indigo Strike (which you can invest essentia in for bonus damage on sneak attacks). And while the incarnum dip is not a bad thing- in fact, it's a rather good and interesting thing- the fact that it’s so rough going straight meldshaper is a bit problematic (though it is entirely doable if you know what you're doing).

In addition to multiclassing spectacularly well, incarnum also fares well in gestalt, since it compliments everything. Not much more to say, there.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Expanded Class Feature 7: Foe Hunter

Class: Foe Hunter
Source: Secrets of Pact Magic

How it Works:
I’ve worked up an all-purpose ‘How it Works’ article for pact-making classes as a whole, which can be found here.

Alright, stepping into Secrets of Pact Magic. This time, we’re working with the Foe Hunter, one of several hybrid-type classes that integrate a solid base set of class features with spirit binding. In this case, a rogue/ranger/binder mesh. This one’s my least favorite of the spirit-binding classes, and I still like it, which should say a great deal about how highly I regard the material. As if my glowing praise for Secrets of Pact Magic hadn’t already. Next time I dip into pact magic, I'll probably go for my favorite pact magic class, the Unbound Witch.

Full disclosure, I’ve never actually used this particular class, either as a DM or a player.

Fluffy Bits:
The Foe Hunter is… exactly what it says on the tin. All binders haggle with spirits who hardly exist anymore, beings grasping on any means to influence the world again. The Foe Hunters are the ones who entice spirits by promising to kill people they don’t like. And this class is about killing people, in no uncertain terms. In fact, you can pretty much take penalties for NOT killing people. This is a sneaky/stabby class in the same vein as the Rogue or Ninja, with a dark magic edge. It’s also a darker class, leaning more towards bounty hunters and assassins than the noble thief.

Overall, this class has a very antiheroic edge to it. There is lip service given to good-aligned Foe Hunters who only go after evil foes and who subdue/capture targets, but we’re talking about a class that takes penalties for not killing people. This is a major antihero class, at best.

And whatever their bound spirit’s favored enemy is, the Foe Hunter is compelled to kill them or suffer penalties, so if they bind a spirit who hates dwarves, you’d better hope you don’t happen upon some friendly dwarves. And there’s actually a spirit whose favored enemy is all humanoids, so that could well mean the Foe Hunter takes penalties for not murdering the entire party in their sleep. This really hinders their social life and tends to make them loners, often more suited for NPC status than PCs.

Still, it’s a cool class for that dark, hateful hunter/assassin type character.

Crunchy Bits:
Mechanically, the Foe Hunter is a synthesis of Ranger and Rogue with binding flare.

First, the skeleton. Medium BAB, d6 hit die, 6+ skill points per level from a Rogue-like list, strong reflex saves, rogue weapon proficiencies and light armor. A Rogue-like skeleton for a Rogue-like class.

The foe hunter partly centers around their bound spirit or spirits’ favored enemies, which you get bonuses against. So, if you bind Aza’zati you get bonuses against humanoid spellcasters, and if the next day you bind Mute Sylvus, you get bonuses against magical beasts instead.

The first bonus you get is Favored Spirit Enemy, which is like a Ranger’s Favored Enemy, but applies only against your bound spirit’s favored enemies. This bonus goes from +2 at level 1 to +10 at level 20. You also get a bonus on some skill checks (like Diplomacy) when working with your spirit’s favored allies.

Also at level one, you get Track (with Swift Tracker at level 8) as a bonus feat and a rather nice feature called Mark Foe. At will, you can take a standard action to essentially declare vendetta against a single foe, marking it for two minutes during which time you add half your favored enemy bonus to hit and damage (even if they’re not a favored enemy). You can only mark one foe at a time. Of course, blowing a standard action in combat is a significant price and may not always be worth it, but if you sneak up on a foe, mark them, then open fire, it’s nice. Of interest, this is a medium BAB class and Mark Foe adds up to +5 to hit, making up for lower accuracy, with certain constraints. Actually being able to hit is always good.

The last feature you get at level 1 (other than binding) is Spirit Driven. This feature is very simple. If you see one of your favored enemies, you are compelled to kill them. As soon as you recognize any favored enemy within thirty feet, you suffer a -1 penalty to all d20 rolls and a -4 penalty to Concentration unless you are trying to kill the enemy. This penalty lasts until you kill a favored enemy (not necessarily the one who triggered this effect) or until your pact ends. And the wording is unclear, but it seems like the penalty would stack with itself, such that if you run into seven dwarves and they’re your favored enemy, you eat a -7 penalty to all d20 rolls for the day unless you kill a dwarf.

This is the feature that really turns me off of the Foe Hunter. The murderous bloodlust on sight is just… not something I’d want to deal with, from any angle.

Moving on, you get Evasion at level two (advancing to Improved Evasion at level 13) and Trapfinding at level three (which is odd). Also at level three, you start gaining Sneak Attack at half progression, going from 1d6 at level 1 to 5d6 at level 17.

At level four, you get Boon of Lost Souls. If you kill someone, you can get a bonus to an attack roll made soon thereafter. It works three times per day. At level five, Uncanny Dodge (advancing to Improved Uncanny Dodge at level 9). At level six, Death Attack like an Assassin. At level eight, you can make coup de graces faster. At level ten, you get Locate Creature once a week. You also gain Scrying at level 13, Slay Living against marked foes at level 15, Power Word: Kill at level 18, and Discern Location at level 20, with various uses per day/week depending on the ability.

You also get supersenses. Scent at level 7, 30’ blindsense at level 16, 30’ blindsight at level 19.

And then, you have spirit binding. You get a Bard-like progression, capping out at 6th-level spirits, which limits some of the effects you have access to, but does tend to make those binding checks a bit easier to make.

Lower spirit levels, of course, limit what you can do with them, and you’re probably not going to have the big constitution score required to really make good use of anything that has a save DC, once more limiting the range of powers you can use effectively more towards the buffs and passive abilities. However, there’s the matter of your spirit’s favored enemy and, to a lesser extent, favored ally. If you know what you’re hunting and want to get your Favored Spirit Enemy bonus, then the choice of spirit has already been made for you, even if the spirit’s powers aren’t any good at hunting your enemy. On top of that, if you’re hunting, say, a dwarf, you have to worry about all the friendly dwarves who may stack penalties on you if they come close if you don’t kill them, which really complicates hunting down your dwarf. Also, you have to keep track of your spirits’ favored allies because a lot of your features outright don’t work against them.

And if you don’t know what you’ll be dealing with for the day, well… sucks to be you.

Plus, there’s the issue of access. Your spirits advance slowly, and you are restricted by what favored enemies they have, so if you want to go minotaur-hunting, no spirit has monstrous humanoids as a favored enemy and if you’re third-level going after an ogre, sorry, but Vandrae isn’t available until you hit level eight, and she only has the male giants as her favored enemy.

Bringing all that together, it just puts way too much importance on what really seems like it should be an unobtrusive secondary aspect of spirits, applying too many obnoxious penalties to contend with if you have to deal with a favored enemy on friendly terms or oppose a favored ally.

You’re the sneaky scout, same as the Rogue or the Scout or the Beguiler or the Factotum or a number of others. The fundamentals are similar. You have quite a few sources of bonus damage (mark, Sneak Attack, Favored Enemy, spirits), so dual-wielding can work well, and archery is another obvious choice on a dexterity-based class like this. Either way, I suggest going a route that doesn’t demand a great deal of strength; you need a lot of stats.

Odds are dexterity will be your main stat, since this is a sneaky/stabby class. Constitution is always important, particularly since you only get a d6 for hit points and they determine the save DCs four your spirit’s granted abilities. Normally, I’d advise just blowing off save-ors entirely on a class like this, but since favored enemies/allies play so strongly into what spirits you bind, you may be stuck with save-or effects as your most useful granted abilities, and in those cases, it helps to has save DCs that someone might actually fail against. Still, constitution probably won’t be your primary stat.

Strength, you don’t want a penalty in, and a bonus here can help, but it’s not extremely important. You have 6+ skill points per level, but as a skill monkey, you need lots of skill points and if you can’t afford to take Ignore Binding Requirements, you’re going to need some of those skill points to meet prerequisites for your spirits. That makes intelligence important for every Foe Hunter. Wisdom is something you can take or leave; it affects your weak will saves and detection skills, which aren’t that important. You’ll probably need something to dump, and wisdom is a good candidate.

Then, there’s charisma. Really, charisma isn’t all that important. You can even dump it. At lower levels, so long as you can meet the requirements for binding spirits, the consequences for failing your binding checks aren’t too terribly significant. Not many personality influences are more significant than, “If you see a dwarf, kill it,” and few physical signs are as bad for your social life. Admittedly, if you fail too badly too often, your alignment could be in peril, so you may not want to dump charisma too badly. At higher levels, you get your usual scaling binding check with levels, but since you only get up to 6th-level spirits, the DCs to bind them tend to be more forgiving. Damian Darkstar, for example? DC26. You gain access to him when you hit level 18, so even if you have a charisma score of six, your binding check is +16 and your alignment is guaranteed secure as long as you’re not eating any penalties. Of course, a twelve or fourteen here is always nice.

One of the bigger concerns is feat selection. This class is pretty strapped for feats. It gains no bonus feats and the two most obvious styles- archery and dual-wielding- are rather feat-intensive. Darkstalker (Lords of Madness) is always a must-have on higher-level sneaky sorts, since it lets you actually get a roll against the stock supersenses (Scent, Blindsense, Tremorsense, Blindsight) rather than simply automatically being detected. Also, Secrets of Pact Magic provides Soul Strike; as long as you’re bound to a spirit, you can use your Sneak Attack against foes who are normally immune, like constructs and undead, but only up to a number of damage die equal to the highest level of spirit you can bind. Another must-have in most campaigns. Just covering the barest essentials, you may chew through most or all of your feats, leaving little freedom in that regard. However, if you have some feats to spare, it may be worth considering spending a feat to secure your alignment and Volcanic Burst, which can give you a hefty boost to save DCs, but most likely only once per encounter. While you really shouldn’t rely on your save-or abilities, Volcanic Burst lets you get more bang for your buck when you have to take them.

One last feat worth mention that’s a real double-edged sword is Anima Binder, which would allow you to bind anima spirits that don’t have things like favored enemies and allies. If you bind an anima as your spirit for the day, you would forgo your favored enemy bonus, but you wouldn’t take penalties for not killing every dwarf that walks by or be unable to use a class feature because the foe is a favored ally. As a safety net for when you’re uncertain what the day will be, it’s worth considering if you can spare the feat, but you probably can’t.

And, as always, know your (relevant mechanical element)s. In this case, spirits. A lot goes into picking which spirit or spirits you’re gonna bind. You have to balance all the complications and benefits that favored allies and enemies bring with your overall build and the abilities themselves, so there’s quite a lot of data you need in order to make an informed decision.

As a final note, if you want to use a Foe Hunter NPC, life becomes a lot easier as the NPC can explicitly build around a single spirit at a single level for use against a single creature type and doesn’t really suffer as much from social stigmas brought about by compulsions to murder. For that reason, I see the Foe Hunter as more of a DM tool than a player character (even though the vast array of class features and fiddly bits screams “PC”) for use for the demon hunter NPC or the undead hunter NPC or the PC hunter NPC.

A broad and useful array of flexible abilities
Solid thiefy skill list
Secure employment in the murder industry

Lots of conditional abilities makes it difficult to bring out your full power
Compulsions to murder are bad for your social life
Spirit selection is often largely done for you

Remaining classes: Ardent, Artificer, Crusader, Divine Mind, Dread Necromancer, Empyrean Monk, Erudite, Exorcist, Incarnate, Lurk, Muse, Occult Priest, Pact Warrior, Psychic Rogue, Psychic Warrior, Ravaged Soul, Rookblade, Soulborn, Swordsage, Soul Weaver, Spirit Binder, Templar, Totemist, Unbound Witch, Warblade, Warbinder.

Next Week: Incarnate (I need a little more time to work on the Tome of Battle primers)