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

1 comment:

  1. You missed out on the incarnates most key ability.

    Vitality Belt. It gives you Meldshaper level x Essentia in bonus HP. at level 20, with no essentia cap boosters, Thats 120 HP your Incarnte has from that soulmeld. Take the feat and buy the magic item and you have 160 hp.

    Also, you need 26 con to max out a meld's essentia cap, because there's also the Incarnum focus item you seem to have overlooked. 26 isn't hard to do if you start with a point-buy and add points to con as you level. Or play a Mogrelfolk.

    With CON as a primary stat, and soulmeld that basically gives you an Improved Toughness feat for every essentia you put in it... Your average Incarnate actually has a higher HP pool that your average barbarian past level 6 or so.

    By level 20, an incarnate should be able to clear 400 hp without much trouble.

    And Therapeutic Mantle means that you get more out of healing effects, allowing you to keep that massive HP pool working for you a critical turn or two more with healing support. It may be worthwhile to blow a pair of feats (or a 3000 gp magic item and a feat) to pick up Martial Spirit. With 6 essentia in the mantle, you're healing yourself for 15 hp every time you hit something.

    Also, check out Winter Mask. Totemists often find it meh, but for an Incarnate or Warblade picking it up via feat? Gold! A touch attack debuff you can iterative with, and if you put essentia into it, it deals damage (more the the point for Stormguard Warrior Warblades, with no essentia it doesn't deal damage, but can still debuff).

    Incarnum weapon also bears the distinction of being able to hit +6 (or even +8) pre-epic, which isn't super useful, but is kinda neat.