Eclipse and the Piao Shih

I recently had the good fortune of finding several old issues of Dragon magazine being sold for cheap. While it’s not that hard to find Dragon on the Internet these days, I still enjoy acquiring physical copies, so I eagerly snatched them up.

One of the issues was #164, which featured the “Born to Defend” article that introduced a new Oriental Adventures class: the piao shih. (Amusingly, this issue was printed in December of 1990, when AD&D 2E was over eighteen months old despite Oriental Adventures being a 1E supplement; it just goes to show how little anyone cared about “edition wars” back then.) A martial class by design, the piao shih is a caravan master that’s responsible for a specific territory, guiding and protecting those who sign on to cross the dangerous stretch of wilderness, eventually working their way up to become the head of their organization.

Reading it over, I found myself intrigued by the class design, and decided to update it to Third Edition. Of course, the best way to do that (to my mind) is to use Eclipse: The Codex Persona to convert it over, since the modular nature of its point-buy system allows for a high degree of fidelity in maintaining its class abilities (though, as we’ll see, a few things require interpretation and guesswork):

Available Character Points: 504 CP (level 20 base) + 40 CP (duties) = 544 CP total.

The piao shih’s duties require them to never cheat or betray the passengers who sign on with their caravan, and always do their best to protect them from danger or harm during the journey (unless the passengers try to sabotage, mutiny, or otherwise undermine the piao shih). They must also never do anything that would besmirch the name of their caravan company, such as mistreat their underlings or break their word (including on agreements negotiated with bandits and monsters in order to avoid attacks on their caravan, though this is not an excuse to engage in dishonorable conduct).

Basic Abilities (385 CP or 379 CP Pathfinder)

  • Proficient with all armor (15 CP) and shields (3 CP) and simple and martial weapons (9 CP).
  • 20d8 Hit Dice (120 CP).
  • +20 BAB (120 CP).
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +12 (36 CP).
    • Ref: +6 (18 CP).
    • Will: +6 (18 CP).
  • 46 skill points (46 CP) or 40 (40 CP; Pathfinder).

Giving the piao shih 2 skill points per level was a toss-up. In terms of the role the fulfill, there’s a case to be made for them being either fighters or rangers, who receive very different amounts of skill points. Trying to evaluate this in terms of the original class’s proficiency slots wasn’t helpful either, since AD&D 1E proficiencies don’t convert to skill points by any consistent method. Ultimately, this one was a judgment call; if you think they need more skill points, add them and adjust the cost accordingly (though the best method might be to simply take Fast Learner, specialized for double effect/only for skill points, for 6 CP).

Class Abilities (107 CP)

  • +1 BAB, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only when throwing darts (2 CP).
  • Augmented Attack at triple cost for broad circumstances, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only to add +1 damage when throwing darts (3 CP).
  • Track (3 CP).
  • Martial Arts/2d10, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only while wearing light armor or no armor (14 CP).
  • Skill Focus (6 CP) and Skill Emphasis (3 CP) for Climb.
  • Skill Focus and Skill Emphasis for Spot, specialized for one-half cost (4 CP total)/only on opposed Disguise checks.
  • Skill Focus (6 CP) and Skill Emphasis (3 CP) for Speak Language.
  • Skill Focus (6 CP) and Skill Emphasis (3 CP) for Diplomacy.
  • Leadership (6 CP).
  • Privilege/caravan master (3 CP).
  • Inherent Spell, specialized for one-half cost/only as a prerequisite (3 CP), and Advanced/divination, specialized for one-half cost/only functions while within their caravan territory (3 CP).
  • Executive/caravan master (6 CP) with x3 CEO upgrades (18 CP) and the Tactical upgrade (6 CP), specialized for increased effect/must have a recognizable banner and not have suffered a humiliating defeat (GM’s discretion), allies may gain these bonuses even if the piao shih is not there so long as the banner is visible and undamaged.
  • Resistance/+2 against psychic duels. (3 CP)
  • Major Privilege/nobility (6 CP).

The fourteen bullet points listed, which comprise the bulk of what the piao shih can do, require some explanation and analysis. For one thing, the emphasis on unarmed damage (via their martial art) sits awkwardly with their expansive weapon and armor proficiencies, as well as their minor bonuses for attacking with darts, despite that being the meaning of their class name. Likewise, if they do wear armor heavier than light, their bonus to Climb checks will likely be negated by the armor check penalty.

Leadership, Privilege/caravan master, Executive are the backbone of the class’s thematic niche as running a caravan through (a specific) dangerous territory, with the Major Privilege/nobility being this taken to its end point (as per the original class description), where the piao shih is essentially a functionary who manages the territory in question. Being able to use divination within that area certainly helps. The bonus against “psychic duels” is an artifact of the 1E that doesn’t really apply under the d20 rules, save for psionic combat and the Occult Combat ability on page 54 of Eclipse. If you need to free up some CPs and don’t have these happening in your game, don’t hesitate to toss it.

Tactical Abilities (pick two)

  • Favored Foe/variant, favored terrain, specialized for one-half cost/only for specific localities (castles, hideouts, fortresses, etc.) (3 CP).
  • Rider (6 CP) and Resistance/+2 vs. magical fear, specialized for increased effect/only while mounted, may only be applied to your mount (3 CP).
  • Immunity to being prone (common/minor/minor), specialized for increased effect/also applied vs. overrun, trample, and creatures attacking from elevated positions, but will not work against creatures with more levels/Hit Dice than the piao shih (4 CP).
  • Adaptation/high-altitude environments (6 CP) and Blessing with the Share option, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only for Climb checks (6 CP).
  • Adaptation/shipboard environments (6 CP), the Vehicle upgrade for Rider, specialized for one-half cost/only for small watercrafts from the character’s home region (3 CP), Immunity to Swim penalties (common/minor/minor) (2 CP), the Fast modifier to putting on armor, specialized for one-half cost/only to remove armor (3 CP), and Immunity to Stealth penalties for swimming or operating a watercraft (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP).
  • +1 BAB, specialized and corrupted for one particular weapon (2 CP), Improved Defender, specialized for one-half cost/only against the particular weapon group that weapon belongs to (3 CP), Trick/death attack (% chance of working equal to character level -5), specialized for one-half cost/must be using the chosen weapon, corrupted for two-thirds cost/does not function against creatures with a size category larger than yours (2 CP).

Strategic Abilities (pick two)

  • Presence, specialized/only as a prerequisite (3 CP), with the Improved modifier, specialized for one-half cost/only for members of his caravan (3 CP).
  • Inherent Spell, specialized for one-half cost/only as a prerequisite (3 CP), and Advanced/divination, specialized for one-half cost/only functions with regard to environmental/weather-related dangers (3 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment, specialized for one-half cost/only for 2,500 gp (pass without trace at caster level 1) (3 CP), Favored Enemy/pursuers, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only to lay down a False Trail, as per the feat (2 CP).
  • Skill Focus/Perception, specialized for double effect/only to detect poison (6 CP), Skill Focus/Craft (alchemy), specialized for one-half cost/only to craft antitoxins, antivenins, and other anti-poison concoctions (3 CP).
  • The Horde modifier for Leadership (3 CP).
  • Skill Focus/Perception, specialized for double effect/only to detect spells and effects of the scrying sub-school (6 CP).
  • Major Privilege/wealth, specialized and corrupted for increased effect/only for mechanical traps (6 CP). Double Ability Focus with one particular type of trap (6 CP).

The original piao shih write-up was forward-thinking in that it had a pool of abilities (two, in fact) that characters could choose from at certain levels, something that would come into vogue in later editions of the game. Each piao shih could eventually earn up to two of each type of abilities, which are replicated above. The overall cost of the class therefore varies depending on which abilities you choose (since some are singular abilities and others are suites of them). At their most expensive are the fourth and fifth Tactical abilities (at 12 and 15 CP, respectively) and the fourth and seventh Strategic abilities (at 9 and 12 CP, respectively). Alternatively, the least expensive are the first and third Tactical abilities (3 and 4 CPs, respectively) and the third and fifth Strategic abilities (at 5 and 3 CP, respectively).

Conclusion

Presuming that the most expensive of the Tactical and Strategic options are chosen (and the 3.5, rather than Pathfinder, allotment of skill points are taken), the piao shih comes in at 540 CP out of 544 available. That’s a fairly good set of expenditures. Or at least, it looks that way in terms of the point cost.

However, even leaving aside that this can sink as low as 507 CP if the least expensive options are chosen (or 501 CP if using Pathfinder skill points), the paio shih’s usefulness as a PC character has some problems. For instance, a significant amount of its flavor is tied to remaining in a specific area. While that can still be defined as a fairly expansive amount of territory (since otherwise it wouldn’t require a caravan to cross), this still restricts their ability to participate in a lot of “exotic location” adventures, or clips a lot of their usefulness if they go on one anyway (and which will also likely lead to problems developing at home while they’re gone).

More notable is the low-magic nature of this class. While its nature as a real-world occupation isn’t necessarily restrictive in scope (at least any more than fighters, monks, rogues, and similar characters are), the listings above reflect the lower degree to which magic was present in AD&D 1E. The piao shih, as listed above, has virtually no magical abilities besides a use or two of divination, a mild pass without trace effect, and a small resistance to psychic duels. Beyond that, they’re ill-equipped to deal with supernatural threats (at least beyond whatever magical gear they possess or spellcasters they have in their employ). Because of that, piao shih work best in relatively stable “sandbox” campaigns where the amount of magic present is comparatively low, at least compared to most d20 worlds, and where the campaign focuses on a mixture of political intrigue and mild exploration (since they’ll be crossing the same territory over and over, growing more and more familiar with it).

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2 Responses to “Eclipse and the Piao Shih”

  1. Thoth Says:

    Now I’d totally forgotten about the Piao Shih… They do suffer a good deal from the downgrade of Darts across the editions – but the days of individual attack rates depending on the weapon are long gone.

    Too bad in a way. I kind of miss Cedric and his bandolier of heavy darts and his Girdle Of Storm Giant Strength…

    I have to give them credit though – at least as I recall, at that point the idea of a character with a more-or-less official role and position beyond “you get followers at this level” was a very new thing.

    • alzrius Says:

      A fellow in our group once played a character who, being reluctant to enter melee combat and very conservative with his spells, often hung back and threw darts when a fight broke out. This was in Pathfinder, which meant that he typically accomplished very little in terms of combat effectiveness. He later switched to a kineticist and was much happier for it (even if it proved to be challenging in its complexity).

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