Friday, December 3, 2010

Expanded Class Feature 11: Unbound Witch

Class: Unbound Witch
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.

It’s time for more pimping of Secrets of Pact Magic, with my favorite class from the entire set, the Unbound Witch.

If you don’t have the book, you can still follow along; the Unbound Witch is part of the free sample available here.

Fluffy Bits:
You know that magic thing? Don’t you hate dealing with that whole, “knowing what the Hell you’re doing,” thing? Wouldn’t it be a lot better if you just let the power consume you and became a horrific freak of nature?

Yeah, that’s this class. An Unbound Witch is a binder who throws caution to the wind and fully embraces the spirits they call upon. While other binders negotiate terms and try to stay in control, try not to lose themselves, the Unbound Witch skips straight to, “Gimme your power. More. More.”

As you level up, you can also cherry pick a few individual abilities off of specific spirits, gaining them permanently. Each time this happens, the powers you’ve been tapping cause a mutation of some sort, from simple things like angel tears or a third eye to the more extreme like metallic skin or quills sprouting out of you. By twentieth level, these mutations can turn an ordinary human into some hideous thing build like a gorilla with flesh made of toxic algae and rock, with fangs and wings and a barbed tail and hair made of snakes and compound eyes, that has the power to shoot laser beams and toss around curses and come back from the dead when killed- twice, no less- and all this bizarre stuff, and that’s before actually binding anything. Those are inherent powers. Of course, you don’t have to go that far out in picking mutations, but eventually it’ll get hard to hide, and can become a table issue in some parties. But that’s not the party you bring the, “I turn into a horrific [for varying definitions of horrific] abomination against God and nature,” class to.

This class is also great for monsters, since piling “horrific freak” on top of an already-horrific freak is always a good thing, and the class just generally meshes well with monsters, particularly since it doesn’t really rely on any mental stats.

Crunchy Bits:
First, the skeleton. Strong fortitude and will, low BAB, d6 hit die, and 4+ skill points per level from a rather eclectic list. Light armor, simple weapons. This class acts more as a caster.

Moving on to secondary abilities, at level one, you get Elusive Nothing. A number of times per day equal to your caster level, you can spend an immediate action to add your wisdom modifier (minimum +1)to AC against a single attack.

Also at level one, you get Dark Nature. -4 Diplomacy and Handle Animal, +2 Intimidate and Knowledge (Dungeoneering). Starting at level two, the Diplomacy penalty doesn’t apply to monsters.

And, starting at level five, you get Volatile Mind. Your mind is such that anyone trying to target you with a mind-affecting spell/ability, they need to make a will save (with a wisdom-based DC) or become shaken and the spell fails. This feature advances to fear, panic, and even unconsciousness. You might remember a similar ability from the Wilder, which would drain power points when you’re targeted by a telepathy power. This version is more sensible, though since wisdom’s a secondary stat, the DC will be low, and most creatures targeting you with mind effects probably has a strong will save, so it’s not gonna see use all that often.

And at level 20, you become a monstrous humanoid and gain darkvision. Woo.

Getting into the main features, Unbound Witches get full binding at the slowest progression, gaining access to 9th-level spirits at level 20 (making them your real capstone). Your binding stat is… nothing. This is one of the major aspects of the Unbound Witch; you don’t make binding checks. You automatically fail them every single time, no matter what, meaning you’re always subject to physical signs and personality shifts. However, you automatically gain spirits’ capstone abilities and never have to worry about alignment shifts. Save DCs are still based on constitution.

Next, you also gain Acquire Ability starting at level 2, the most definitive ability of the Unbound Witch. As you level up, you can pick out individual abilities from spirits you’re capable of binding to gain permanently. You gain eight of these by level twenty. This includes capstone abilities. For example, at level two, you can permanently gain Marat’s slam attack without the need to ever actually bind Marat again. You can swap out one ability at 10th- and 20th-level.

For every ability you gain, you also gain a monstrous characteristic such as a tail, goat legs, insect eyes, a leathery hide, and so on. Aside from looking freaky, these come with various benefits. Clawed Hands grant you natural claw attacks, insect eyes grant you 15’ darkvision, webbed hands grant you +3 to swim checks, and so on. Paired with spirits’ physical signs, this can turn you into a real freak.

Last but certainly not least, you get Terror Surge. This is ripped straight from the Wilder’s Wild Surge, except it boosts save DCs for your spirit abilities. This advances from a +1 bonus at level 1 to a +6 bonus at level 19. That’s a lot. Basically, it means Unbound Witches are meant to be primarily a save-or-die class.

Like Wild Surge, there’s a downside. Spirit Enervation. For every point by which you boost a power’s save DC, you have a 5% chance of being dazed for a round, then you lose the power you boosted for another 1d4 rounds. Again, similar to the Wilder, but this time, it’s considerably less debilitating. Though considering a lot of powers have a multi-round round recharge time to begin with, you’ll have to hammer out with your DM whether that’s concurrent or consecutive.

Starting with stats. With low BAB, you’re not likely to ever be much good in melee, so you can dump strength. You don’t really get any benefit from charisma or intelligence, so you can dump those if you want. You have a couple class features that are keyed off of wisdom, but nothing major. You can dump wisdom if you want. No one wants a penalty to dexterity, but even then, you could get away with dumping dexterity. Constitution is the one all-important stat, primarily for save DCs (though the hit points are always nice).

That said, dexterity is your second most important stat. When your bread and butter is save-or-die, initiative is vital; you want to disable the enemy as soon as possible. Improved Initiative? Good idea. Other stats are something you toss in to taste.

Ignore Binding Requirements is virtually requisite for this class, since a failed binding check if you don’t meet requirements means you fail to bind the spirit at all.

Regarding your potentially horrific appearance, there are generally three ways you can go. First, you can try to hide it. You can take Suppress Physical Sign and take monstrous characteristics that are easier to hide, like gills and angel tears. Unfortunately, Unbound Witches are specifically banned from taking Suppress Personality Shift, so you’ll always have to deal with that. Towards this end, there is a focal device variant class feature that can avoid both the physical sign and the personality shift, but I find that particular variant dubious in terms of balance and inconsistent with anything I’d go for with an Unbound Witch. Second, you can embrace your monstrous nature. Who cares if your aasimar ends up a horned lizard person who sheds lethal poison and whose hair is snakes that are on fire while suffering an urge to eat babies? Just… mind how it affects the rest of the group when you start feeding the princess’ left arm to your hairdo. Third, just take the mutations that turn you into a cute cat girl, like paws and a tail.

As I’ve said multiple times, your bread and butter is the save-or-die (or save-or-lose, or save-or-suck, or save-or-amuse-me, or whatever). As the book points out, if you just start off with 15 Con and boost that at every opportunity for 20 Con at level 20, when you throw in Terror Surge, you’re throwing around DC31 abilities. When you start out with much higher constitution, boost it with a magic item, and take feats to raise it even higher, you could easily be talking something in the forties, which is actually viable at high levels. Expect a large chunk of your feats to go into boosting those DCs; Secrets of Pact Magic introduces a number of save boosters. Volcanic Burst, Terror Surge Overchannel, Words of Power. Also, Ability Focus in your favorite ability can be worth it. When you add all these up, it comes out to a lot of feats, which will likely be in high demand for your entire career.

As a PC, selecting your acquired abilities is perhaps the most difficult and important choice you face. You only gain eight of them (nine with a feat), and they’re almost completely cast in stone once you pick them; you only get two chances to swap ‘em out. Once at level ten, once at level twenty. These abilities are your bread and butter, so they have to be powers you can use a lot, that are always useful in any situation, and that can last your entire career without ever becoming obsolete. Like I said. Difficult.

First off, save-or effects are your bread and butter, since you can boost your save DCs high enough for them to always remain useful. It’s good to have a debilitating save-or effect that goes after both will and fortitude. We’re talking things like sleep and paralysis, that can take someone out of a fight in one go, though the better abilities tend to be higher-level. Due to immunities, you may want a bit of redundancy there, but once you have that covered, you have your main combat abilities covered and you can focus more on useful and flexible effects. Hexus’ curse ability allows you to throw around Bestow Curse effects, which are very flexible debuffs (and if you impose a -6 intelligence curse on that 2-int twelve-headed hydra, it’s comatose), Janya Warlock’s capstone is a daily use of Limited Wish, which is pretty much the ability to solve any problem once per day if you’re sufficiently familiar with spells, Goliath’s capstone is a rare reflex save-or-lose that can bind enemies in chains with an extremely high DC to escape via Escape Artist, The Crow has Shadow Conjuration, which can emulate a ton of useful effects, and Son of Dobb’s capstone can bring you back from the dead without penalty once per day (great for villains). Those are just some of my favorites to get you thinking about the possibilities, but go forth and search, yourself.

Also, Anima Binder can be an extremely useful feat, since it lets you draw granted abilities from anima spirits, who sometimes have very good low-level abilities (like the ability to get Wild Shape at level two and qualify for Master of Many Forms at level three). This And No Other’s Restraining Gaze is almost Hold Monster available from the word go, and makes for a great go-to will-based disabler. On the other hand, others scale badly, being keyed directly off of spirit level, so proceed with caution.

Unfortunately, while you can get some really cool melee abilities and loads of natural attacks, that low BAB really cramps the melee witch’s options outside of gestalt.

Though the greatest use for an Unbound Witch is as an NPC, and especially as a boss. Remember everything I said about making sure your chosen abilities are both flexible and have the longevity to age well, how that’s what makes choosing your granted abilities so hard? Yeah, forget that. NPCs are only liable to be around for one fight anyways, and even that’s only going to last a few rounds, so you can afford to make an NPC gimmicky, mechanically one-dimensional, and devoid of any clear advancement. You can build an NPC Unbound Witch entirely around a single ability and have it work well enough to get through an encounter.

Unlike other magic-users, a high-level Unbound Witch is still very easy to put together. For a level 20 witch, you’re still talking eight abilities and one bound spirit. As a boss, their emphasis on constitution gives them enough hit points that they won’t go down right away (particularly if you toss in some defensive abilities), they have strong fortitude and will saves (plus an extra line of defense against mind-affecting abilities in Volatile Mind), which are the saves most likely to cripple a boss in one shot, and they can service a very broad array of character types and present a broad array of challenges. And it’s more likely to be a good thing if the bad guy’s the one with fangs and claws and baby-eating hair. All around, I’d far sooner suggest them as NPCs than PCs.

Great flexibility in what you can build
Obscene save DCs
Single stat dependence
That stat is the best possible stat
Surprisingly good skills
Awesomene NPCs

Very limited flexibility once you set your granted abilities
Low BAB limits you
Feat intensive
You’re liable to end up a hideous freak of nature

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, Warbinder.

Next Time: Soulborn