Saturday, January 1, 2011

Expanded Class Feature 13: Spirit Binder

Class: Spirit Binder
Source: Secrets of Pact Magic

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

And, bouncing over to Secrets of Pact Magic again. This one’s the most basic, and there’s really not a whole lot to say about it. Which makes it good double feature fodder.

Fluffy Bits:
Yeah, this one’s pretty generic. The Spirit Binder is a person who binds spirits. Whatever fluff is going on for the spirits themselves is the fluff for this class.

Crunchy Bits:
We’re looking at a d8 hit die, medium BAB, strong fortitude and will, simple weapons, light armor, and 2+ skill points per level from a fairly uninteresting caster-style list. Aside from the light armor, this is pretty much a Cleric-style skeleton, and that’s about how this class acts.

Starting with the big feature this time, you get spirit binding. No surprise there. Spirit Binders get full progression, and the fastest progression; they’re the only class to get Wizard progression, with 9th-level spirits at level seventeen.

Other than that, your one class feature at level one is your Reserve Spirit. In addition to whatever normal spirit you bind, you can also bind a second spirit that you can call on once a day for two minutes. Handy, but not Faerun-shattering.

Intuit Sprit is some unimportant fluff giving you a bonus to identifying spirits.

Now, getting into the more distinctive features, at every even level, the Spirit Binder gets a Binder Secret. This can be either a small perk or a bonus feat. The perks only function while bound to a spirit, and they start small, getting bigger as levels rise. At second level, you can regain 1d4+level hit points once per day. At fourteenth level, once per day, when you die, you immediately come back without penalty.

The other big feature starts at level six, when you get bonus spirit levels on top of what you can normally bind. At level twenty, you have a total of twenty-four levels of spirits you can bind. That’s a lot of spirits. This is the truly distinctive feature of the class, though it takes quite a while to get off the ground. The ability to bind a single first-level spirit in addition to your normal third-level spirit isn’t very impressive. The ability to bind two sixth-level spirits when that’s the highest level you can bind… is.

The big thing you have to do in order to run a spirit binder well is- say it with me- know your spirits. Especially at higher levels, your biggest benefit is the ability to mix and match spirits, to build them on top of each other and have them cover each others’ weaknesses. To do that well, you have to know what your spirits do in the first place.

As I said before, this class functions in a manner similar to the Cleric; you’re probably either a gish or a dedicated caster. Have a clear picture of which you are and how you’re working towards it. The problem that comes up is… there’s not a real clear place for the Spirit Binder as either. If I wanted a more combat-oriented binder, I’d look to the Empyrian Monk or Pact Warrior. If I wanted more of a caster-binder, the Unbound Witch and its massive save DCs does it better, and has comparable breadth thanks to abilities known, though the Spirit Binder does make a better toolbox character. If they had at least halfway decent skills, you could multiclass with something to get an effective skill monkey, but as it stands, you’d probably be better off using the ready-made Foe Hunter or Rookblade.

As usual, charisma is optional. You can fairly safely dump it and still use your spirits’ powers, but on the other hand, gaining access to capstone abilities is a very good thing. If you’re going more of a melee route, your stats are needed elsewhere, so don’t worry overmuch about charisma. If you’re going for a caster, other than constitution, you don’t have much else in demand for high stats, so you’re free to invest in charisma quite a bit, as well as feats to raise your binding check and lower the bar to gain capstone abilities. High constitution is a must either way, and if you’re relying on various effects to cripple your foes, initiative is vital.

Moving on to feats, Ignore Binding Requirements is even more important. You’re going to be binding lots and lots of spirits. Tracking requirements on all of them is a nightmare.

For warriors, blowing feats on proficiencies is generally a bad idea. Better to either take a level in some other class or be an elf for longbow proficiency; there are a number of archery spirits, after all. Or just gain proficiencies through spirits. Throwing a couple feats into boosting saves to decent levels can help round things out. Also keep in mind that combat-focused spirits tend to age better than casting-focused spirits, so you may find it wise to use a fourth-level spirit through to the end of your career, which combines with the second point; a number of spirits provide feats, sometimes important feats. For example, Tyrant Cromwell is a second-level spirit that can give you greatsword proficiency and Power Attack, and if you plan to rely on both, binding him for the rest of your career may not be a bad idea, but in doing so, you’re boxed into that selection and you’re a lot less flexible. Matters of just how to mix and match various spirits get… involved. Especially when you have a dozen spirit levels to work with, and some of the spirits you’re binding are second and third level. And the entire dynamic changes as you level up, so while making a good level eight character isn’t that tough, keeping it a well-oiled machine at level ten when everything’s just changed is… difficult. This is a better option for GMs than players since, for an NPC, you only really have to worry about one point in time.

For castery types, flexibility is key. Anima spirits are useful, particularly since they scale and can plug extra spirit levels nicely. If you have the charisma for it (even if you need an item to pull it off), Vatic Spellbinder gives you spells from a domain (though not a granted ability). The various feats that ramp up save DCs are also valuable. If you leave a few spirit levels unassigned, Rapid Binding lets you fill that slot as a full-round action, adding a great deal of flexibility. One feat to warn against, however, is Focal Constellation.

Multiclassing is a sticky point. It doesn’t advance your bonus spirits, and some of the higher-level secrets are awesome. Tenth level is immunity to exorcism, which is a must if exorcism ever comes up in-game, since it leaves you pretty screwed, and fourteenth brings you back from the dead once per day. However, since all you get is spirit binding, with barely anything in the way of class features, gaining actual class features from PrCs can be great. It’s a toss-up, but the Angel/Demon/Devil Binder prestige classes split the difference nicely, being only three levels long (and you can get away with just one), and they’re particularly useful since each one opens up a new list of spirits to draw on. The third level of each costs you a level of spirit progression (which you can afford), but keeps one angel/demon/devil spirit from counting against your allotment of spirit levels, which means you can bind a lot more spirits. Thirty levels worth if you play your cards right. And binding a balor can be fun; when you die, everything within a hundred feet takes a hundred damage, and then if you took that level 14 secret, you come back to life. Fun times. Particularly funny if you let an army kill you just to let ‘em get blown up.

Fast spirit binding
Broad spirit binding
Some good perks through secrets
Bonus feats are always nice

Poor proficiencies
Crappy skills
Bonus feats do not replace actual class features

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

Next Time: Ardent

Expanded Class Feature 12: Soulborn

Class: Soulborn
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.

Okay, it’s been a while, so I’m coming back with a double feature. A short double feature, but hey, not every class has all that much to be said about it.

Back to Magic of Incarnum for the turkey of the incarnum world, the Soulborn. Prepare to be underwhelmed. This one’s going to be brief. And, other than the Exorcist from Villains of Pact Magic, this is the last real turkey of a class. Everything from here (again, except the Exorcist) is actually fairly decent.

Fluffy Bits:
You fight. You have meldshaping (eventually). You’re a zealot. That’s about it. Really, beyond being an incarnum paladin (of any of the four extreme alignments), there’s not much to it.

Crunchy Bits:
Not much here, either. Full BAB, d10 hit die, strong fortitude, 2+ skill points from a skill list on par with the Paladin. You gain one social skill depending on your alignment. They get martial weapons, heavy armor, and shields.

Moving on to the secondary class features, at first level, you have an aura of your alignment as a Cleric of your class level. At second level, you gain an immunity dependent on your alignment; fear, paralysis, exhaustion, or strength drain. At levels 3, 7, and 11, you gain a bonus incarnum feat. At level 9, you can share whichever immunity you got at level two with the rest of the party once per day (and a few more times as you level up). At level 19, you gain Timeless Body like a Monk or Druid.

Now that all that meh is out of the way, the main features.

First, you gain smiting as a Paladin, save that it works against both opposed alignments, so if you’re Lawful/Good, it works against both evil and chaos. It still only works once per day at level one, and up to five times per day at level twenty, and you don’t even get any of the other charisma-related boons Paladins get.

Then, there’s the main course. Meldshaping. They gain the ability to shape soulmelds starting at level four (and before that, they’re not meldshapers), can only shape one soulmeld per four levels, and you gain your first point of essentia at level six, only going up to ten points by level twenty. A joke. Especially compared to an Incarnate’s twenty-six and a Totemist’s twenty. They gain their first chakra bind at level eight, only getting three of them by the end. When both Incarnate and Totemist start on chakra binds at level two. They also only go up to the middling throat and waist chakras, and even then only at level eighteen. In fact, you could gain the chakra binds as soon or sooner by taking feats.

And they have absolutely no class features that tie into their meldshaping.

It’d be easiest to just say not to use the thing. It’s a crappy class with hardly anything going for it.

That said, if you really want to go Soulborn, multiclass. The first four levels don’t suck. You get your smiting, an immunity, a bonus feat, and you open up a soulmeld. It’s not much, but it would take way too many levels to get much. You could do worse than going from Soulborn to some prestige class or another.

The Soulborn is basically a Paladin that trades away far, far too much just for meldshaping. It would be an improvement to just make this a Paladin variant, swapping out spellcasting for Soulborn melds, essentia, and chakra binds.

They get meldshaping
Ye olde melee skeleton

The meldshpaing sucks
It really doesn’t get much

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

Next Time: Spirit Binder