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)

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