Posts Tagged ‘new rules’

Removing Alignment From Pathfinder – Addendum: Core Prestige Classes

April 16, 2016

Several years ago, I wrote a brief series of articles about removing alignment-based mechanics from Pathfinder, focusing specifically on the Core classes, spells and magic items, and monsters. Since then, these posts have become some of the most popular parts of Intelligence Check, getting regular hits even after all of this time.

It’s because of that that I’m a little chagrined to have only recently realized that there’s an area of the Pathfinder Core Rules that I overlooked in my original series: the prestige classes found in the Core Rulebook.

Of course, the fact that no one ever bothered to point this out to me says, I think, something about how prestige classes are viewed these days. Even back during the heyday of 3.X, most prestige classes tended to be regarded with suspicion – at least insofar as their balance went – and a vague sense of frustration for how they seemed to nod in the direction of in-game story potential even as they were typically used for purely mechanical purposes.

Throw in the issues that come along with multiclassing, and it’s easy to see why archetypes – as introduced in the Pathfinder’s first major splatbook, the Advanced Player’s Guide – quickly replaced prestige classes as the go-to for how to customize your character (besides feats, races, etc.). But that doesn’t mean that they’ve gone away entirely. Should someone want to make use of a prestige class, whether for the mechanics or the story potential or both, the basic PrCs are right there in the Core Rules.

Now let’s see what they look like shorn of alignment.

Core Prestige Classes

Below are the changes necessary to remove alignment-based mechanics from the prestige classes in the Core Rulebook. Those PrCs that aren’t listed here have no such mechanics, and so require no changes.

Arcane Archer: Delete the “enhance arrows” ability gained at 9th level, replacing it with the following:

“At 9th level, every nonmagical arrow fired by an arcane archer gains the keen and bane weapon qualities. The keen quality functions even if the arcane archer fires arrows that deal bludgeoning damage. The creature type to which the bane quality applies may be changed once per day as per the arcane archer’s elemental and elemental burst qualities.”

The goal here is to grant the arcane archer a total of +2 weapon qualities to replace the alignment qualities he’s losing. Bane is the obvious choice to replace alignment-based additional damage, and since this narrows the range of foes that will be subject to extra damage, we can ameliorate this (at least somewhat) by adding in keen as well (along with a note so that the arcane archer isn’t penalized if using blunt arrows).

Arcane Trickster: Delete the alignment requirement for this prestige class.

Honestly, this particular restriction is so flimsy I’m surprised that it’s there at all. If rogues can be lawful, and wizards and sorcerers can be lawful, then why exactly can’t a rogue-wizard mashup be lawful? As such, we can get rid of this requirement without a second thought.

Assassin: Delete the alignment requirement for this prestige class.

You have to admire this particular restriction, as it managed to tick off both the story-gamers (who wanted to roleplay being a professional contract killer) and the power-gamers (who wanted the death attack power this PrC offered) by requiring an alignment that most GMs disallowed as a matter of course.

Shadowdancer: Change the second sentence of the “summon shadow” description to read as follows:

“Unlike a normal shadow, this shadow cannot create spawn.”

This removes the clause about the shadow having the shadowdancer’s alignment, which while a minor change (particularly with the removal of all other alignment-based effects), might still be significant if you want to place more emphasis on the shadowdancer having an undead familiar like this.

Conclusion

There wasn’t much to change here, but hopefully these alterations will be worthwhile if you’re looking at taking a Core prestige class in an alignment-free game. After all, why can’t the good guys have assassins too?

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Race-ing Ponies

May 31, 2014

Continuing with last week’s theme, I’m posting more d20 stats for various aspects of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic using the point-buy rules in Eclipse: the Codex Persona. Whereas before I kept a narrow focus by writing up the mechanics for a single magical relic, this time we’ll examine something far more universal in the show’s presentation: the various pony races.

Earth Ponies (20 CP/+0 ECL race)

  • Attribute Shift, +2 Charisma/-2 Dexterity (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment, caster level 1 x spell level 1 x 2,000 gp x .7 personal-only modifier. Corrupted for two-thirds cost/only provides two-thirds usual gp value (4 CP; 3,400 gp).
    • +2 enhancement bonus to Strength (1,400 gp)
    • +2 enhancement bonus to Constitution (1,400 gp)
  • Immunity/stacking limitations when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (common/minor/trivial; only covers level 0 or 1 effects) (2 CP).
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of racial innate enchantments (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP).
  • Workhorse, corrupted for two-thirds cost/subject to dispelling, antimagic, and similar effects (4 CP).
  • Skill Focus (6 CP).
  • Blocked. Earth ponies are not able to take any spellcasting progressions (-3 CP).

Frienship is Magic initially presents earth ponies as the most boring of the three types of ponies. Pegasi get to fly and walk on clouds, unicorns get to use magic, and earth ponies…don’t really get anything.

The show eventually gives earth ponies some unique attributes, but does so in a rather hesitant manner. We’re told midway through season two that the tribe of earth ponies are the only ones that practice agriculture, which all ponies rely on since they’re all herbivorous. The problem is that that’s specialized knowledge, rather than a racial ability. It’s only at the end of season four that we’re told that earth ponies have inherently magical strength that allows them to work the land.

…which, when you think about it, is still kind of lame. Especially since there are plenty of earth ponies that we see in the show that don’t display any sort of exceptional strength. That suggests that this strength is notably minor, which is probably best represented by the Workhorse ability in the above build. Purely to make them a more attractive racial choice, I’ve bolstered that power with Innate Enchantments that boost Strength and Constitution as well.

That doesn’t make earth ponies quite as attractive to play as unicorns or pegasi – as those races’ greater CP expenditures demonstrate – but it does help to close the gap.

Some communiques from the show’s staff have suggested that instead of – or possibly in addition to – having greater strength than other ponies, earth ponies have a special connection to the land and its creatures.

If you want to add that ability, change the Innate Enchantment listing for earth ponies to the following:

  • Innate Enchantment, caster level 1 x spell level 1 x 2,000 gp x .7 personal-only modifier. (7 CP; 6,000 gp).
    • +3 competence bonus to Handle Animal (1,400 gp)
    • +3 competence bonus to Knowledge (nature) (1,400 gp)
    • +3 competence bonus to Profession (farmer) (1,400 gp)
    • +3 competence bonus to Survival (1,400 gp)

That increases their racial build to 23 CP – still within the 31 CP cutoff for an ECL +0 race – and makes them a bit more equitable with their fellow equines.

If you want to have the above in addition to the increased Strength and Constitution, simply add those abilities back in and increase the CP value of the Innate Enchantment to 10 (9,000 gp), giving them a total racial cost of 26 CP.

Pegasus Ponies (26 CP/+0 ECL race)

  • Attribute Shift, +2 Charisma/-2 Constitution (6 CP).
  • Celerity with the Additional modifier, all set to flight, corrupted for two-thirds cost/subject to dispelling, antimagic, and similar effects (12 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment, caster level 1 x spell level 1 x 2,000 gp x .7 personal-only modifier. Specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only provides one-third usual gp value (2 CP; 1,700 gp).
    • Cloud walk (1,400 gp).
  • Immunity/stacking limitations when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (common/minor/trivial; only covers level 0 or 1 effects) (2 CP).
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of racial innate enchantments (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP).
  • Skill Focus (6 CP).
  • Blocked. Pegasus ponies are not able to take any spellcasting progressions (-3 CP).

That pegasus ponies’ ability to fly is magical – as stated during the fourth season finale – makes a great deal of sense, since it neatly explains how we constantly see them flying with the adroit maneuverability of hummingbirds. The statistics given above let pegasus ponies fly at a rate of 30 feet with perfect maneuverability.

Their equally unique ability to walk on clouds was slightly more tricky. Ultimately, I decided to modify the water walk spell into a lower-level version specific to clouds. Since that’s much more limited in scope – clouds only, rather than all liquids – and has a much more limited set of useful circumstances (simply getting up to the clouds isn’t going to be possible without being able to fly in the first place), I set the spell level as being 1. The full version of the spell is below:

CLOUD WALK

School transmutation [air]; Level cleric/oracle 1, ranger 1

Components V, S, DF

Range touch

Targets one touched creature/level

Duration 1 hour/level (D)

Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

Subjects of this spell can walk upon clouds as though they were solid ground. This spell only works with regard to clouds, and not other forms of aerial obscurement such as smoke, mist, or fog. The subjects can walk, run, charge, or otherwise move across the surface of the cloud as if it were normal ground.

There is, of course, no particular reason for pegasus ponies to purchase an immunity to stacking limits with regard to their Innate Enchantments, but its worth having if only to allow for individual ponies that manage to increase their innate powers somehow.

Unicorn Ponies (30 CP/+0 ECL race)

  • Attribute Shift, +2 Charisma/-2 Strength (6 CP).
  • Innate Enchantment, caster level x spell level 1 x 2,000 gp (7 CP; 6,000 gp)
    • Greater mage hand (2,000 gp).
    • Greater mage hand (2,000 gp).
    • One additional 0- or 1st-level spell.
  • Immunity/stacking limitations when combining innate enchantment effects with external effects (common/minor/trivial; only covers level 0 or 1 effects) (2 CP).
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of racial innate enchantments (uncommon/minor/trivial) (1 CP).
  • Immunity/needing to concentrate on spells (common/major/trivial – only for spells of level 0 or 1), specialized for half cost/only applies to innate enchantments (1 CP).
  • Immunity/verbal, somatic, and material components when casting spells (very common/major/minor – only for spells of level 3 or below) (10 CP).
  • Eldritch, a unicorn’s horn glows when using innate enchantments or spellcasting, and a matching glow surrounds the target (0 CP).
  • Skill Focus (6 CP).
  • Accursed. Any damage, or other harmful effect, that befalls a unicorn’s horn (e.g. must target their horn specifically, rather than the unicorn overall) causes all innate enchantments and spells cast to immediately end. No more can be used until the effect is healed (-3 CP).

It’s not wrong to suggest that unicorns are, to put it politely, first among equals. This is primarily due not to any particular power that they have, but rather one limitation that they lack: the inability to become spellcasters. Unicorns alone can use magic actively, rather than relying solely on innate abilities.

Speaking of which, the listing for their Innate Enchantments is not an error; greater mage hand is there twice to show that unicorns are able to manipulate two things at once. Their third Innate Enchantment is specific to each unicorn, reflecting their individual dispositions.

The greater mage hand spell is from the 3.5 Spell Compendium. It functions as per the normal mage hand spell, save for being first level, having a duration of concentration, medium range, and allows for things of up to 40 lbs. to be lifted with an effective Strength of 10, and can be moved up to 20 ft. per round.

A Few Rules of Hoof

There are a few general notes that should be mentioned with regards to the above races.

The major one is that none of these have been specialized or corrupted due to being quadrupeds that lack proper hands. That wasn’t an oversight – ponies aren’t penalized for their lack of opposable thumbs because, as they’re portrayed on the show, they can effectively work around that limitation.

Partially through using their mouths and partially through the cartoon fiat that lets their forelegs function akin to human arms at convenient times, ponies don’t seem to lack any particular ability to manipulate their environment in the same ways a human would. Ergo, they don’t get any price break.

Likewise, each race has Skill Focus, but the particular skill is unspecified. That’s on purpose, as this is the special talent that each pony discovers for themselves as they reach maturity – in other words, their cutie mark. That this shouldn’t technically happen until the pony reaches first level, and is displayed with a unique mark on each flank, is too minor to warrant mechanical extrapolation.

I also elected to keep the ponies Medium-sized, rather than Small. That wasn’t my initial plan – after all, they’re called My Little Ponies – but I made a rough determination (using some extremely pedantic reasoning) that the smallest adult ponies, such as Twilight and her friends, were four feet tall, which is the minimum height for Medium creatures. Add in that several other ponies are taller than this (e.g. Big Mac), and the decision became an easy one.

It’s worth noting that every breed of pony had Charisma as the ability score that received a +2 bonus to reflect how, on the show, ponies of all sorts have a gregarious disposition. Being outgoing, if not always friendly, is second-nature to ponies of all kinds, making Charisma a natural choice for which ability score gets a racial boost.

Finally, none of these ponies has a favored class, using the 3.5 meaning of the term. Just like humans, a pony’s favored class is whichever base class they currently have the most levels in.

Pathfinder Ponies

As the above paragraph makes clear, these races are all built to 3.5 standards. Under the Eclipse rules, this is distinct from Pathfinder only in that each race has a total ability score modifier of +0. This is deliberate, as Eclipse makes Pathfinder modifications separately via a package deal.

If you want to use these ponies in a Pathfinder game, the aforementioned package deal requires the additional +2 bonus to be mandated by race, rather than freely assigned. As such, here’s the listing for the additional ability score bonus for the various pony tribes:

  • Earth ponies: +2 Wisdom.
  • Pegasus ponies: +2 Dexterity.
  • Unicorn ponies: +2 Intelligence.

Next time, we’ll look at some particular pony personages!

Triple Solutions for Quadratic Wizards

January 1, 2013

One of the charges typically leveled against the wizard class is that it’s “quadratic” whereas the fighter (the typical baseline for classes that aren’t (full) spellcasters) is “linear.” What this usually means is that the fighter’s power (e.g. his combat potential) increases in a fairly small but steady increments over time, whereas the wizard’s power grows exponentially as they gain new spells.

Personally, I don’t think very much of those arguments. Like most armchair theory-crafting, this tends to focus on mechanical issues that look bad on paper – particularly when backed up by hypothetical game situations constructed specifically to aggrandize the “problem” under discussion – but aren’t really that bad in the course of actual play. Given that most players can’t even agree on what “balance” is, let alone how to achieve it, I think that the whole issue is overblown.

Wizard

Don’t even bother rolling for initiative, bitch.

That said, it is a truism that wizards are more powerful than they were in previous editions. Now, this is true for all classes (and monsters, for that matter), but in the case of wizards and other spellcasters, I’ve noticed that while there are plenty of new powers and abilities added, there’s another factor here – the loss of the weaknesses that were once part-and-parcel of spellcasting.

That may sound odd, but back in earlier editions of the game, there were some pretty exacting limitations involved with casting a spell. All have been subsequently removed or toned down, allowing spellcasters to (as the alarmists have described it) dominate the game at high levels. Given that, the answer to this problem seems simple – we don’t need to power-up the melee classes even further, but rather need to reintroduce the previous limitations on spellcasters in general and wizards in particular.

Listed below are three variant rules that help to check the limits on what wizards and other spellcasters can do. Each of these rules works independently of the others, but taken together they sharply dial back on the power that spellcasters will have in your game.

Segmented Casting Times

Notwithstanding a handful of spells that take a full round to cast, casting a spell is always completed during your action on the initiative order. It doesn’t matter how powerful or intricate the spell, it’s something you can do in an instant, and unless someone readied an action or got an attack of opportunity on you (tsk, you didn’t cast defensively?), then there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

That’s not how it used to be though. Before, casting times had a numerical modifier that altered your initiative, so if you rolled an initiative of 14, for example, and cast a spell with a casting time of “3,” then while you’d start casting it on a 14 in the initiative count, it wouldn’t take effect until the initiative got to 11…which could result in disaster if that enemy orc got to go on a 12.

So how do we reintroduce this limitation in Pathfinder? Easily: When casting a spell, its casting time takes a number of round segments equal to the level of the spell. This is true for all spellcasters.

Now, there are number of caveats that need to be addressed for this. First, this only affects spells with a casting time of 1 standard action – spells that already take 1 full round or more keep their original casting time; no more is added. Likewise, spells with a much quicker casting time (e.g. a move, swift, or immediate action) keep their original casting times as well; those spells are designed to be cast quickly.

The verbal component for Charm Person.

The verbal component for Charm Person.

Secondly, this doesn’t change the action used in the round when the spellcaster takes his action. A fifth-level spell that has a listed casting time of 1 standard action will, under these rules, take 5 segments to complete…but on the wizard’s turn, he still needs to spend a standard action to begin casting the spell; he just then keeps doing so for another five segments of the round. Also note that he’s still casting during this time, and so any disruptions he suffers during this time can also cause him to lose the spell.

Thirdly, spells affected by metamagic use their effective level to determine their casting time. So casting a maximized fireball will take 6 segments of a round.

Utilizing “round segments” introduces some unique problems into the game. What happens, for example, if a wizard rolls an initiative of 3 but is casting a spell that requires 5 segments to cast under the above rules? Does it go off at 0? Or do round segments go to into negative numbers? Or should it roll over to the beginning of the next round, and if so, when is the “beginning” of the next round? Is it at the highest rolled initiative, or are there segments above that? Problems like these are corner cases, certainly, but they will eventually come up.

The best way to handle this is to denote that each combat round has a specific, set number of segments in it. A good rule of thumb is 40 (twice the range of the d20), which should allow for a wide range of initiatives without spreading the action times too thin. So all actions in a round take place during a count from 40 down to 0, with the higher numbers going first.

In the event that multiple characters act on the same initiative, then whomever has the higher Dexterity score is considered to go first; if two or more characters have the same Dexterity score, then their actions are performed simultaneously.

Similarly, characters that get extreme initiative rolls act on segment 40 (if they got an initiative result of 40+) or 0 (if they got an initiative result of 0 or less). In case multiple characters get results at such extremes, they all still act on that count, but the characters with the higher results go first (e.g. as though they got a tied initiative result, and the characters with the higher scores had a higher Dexterity).

So for example, if Dirk the Rogue rolled a modified 41 for his initiative score, and Dudley the Paladin rolled a modified 47 (both are point-whoring munchkins), both characters go on segment 40 of the round (the earliest it’s possible to go) but Dudley goes first, since he rolled a higher score. Likewise, if Boris the Bumbler rolled a modified -2 for his initiative, and Natasha the Nincompoop rolled a modified -4 for her initiative, then both would go on segment 0, but Boris would act first, since he had the better roll. Only if two or more characters’ modified initiative rolls are the same would they need to check who had the higher Dexterity.

So what happens in the case of casting spells that require more segments than are left in the round – such as the aforementioned wizard whose initiative is a 3 and is casting a spell with 5 initiative segments’ casting time? In such an instance, the casting time “rolls over” to the next round, and its remaining casting time is subtracted from the subsequent initiative count. In this case, that wizard would cast his spell on the next round at 39 in the initiative count. Note that this would not change the wizard’s order in the initiative, nor use up any of his actions on that subsequent round – it just takes the spell he cast last round that long to be completed.

One issue that needs to be dealt with using this rules variant is how magic items and spell-like abilities are treated.

For magic items – regardless of whether they’re spell trigger, spell completion, or command word-activated – it’s recommended that any magic item that requires activation be subject to the above casting times. So utilizing a wand of fireballs would have a segment modifier of 3, regardless of whether you were a wizard using it or a rogue activating it via Use Magic Device.

The reason for this is that removing the “casting time” from magic items makes them eclipse spellcasters, particularly at higher levels. Scrolls, wands, and staves become the weapons of choice for high-level spellcasters, with actual spellcasting being a disadvantageous fall-back option. Subjecting magic items to this restriction keeps them on par with spellcasting abilities.

It’s possible that you may find that having “casting times” for magic items to break verisimilitude. After all, when’s the last time you heard of someone leveling a wand at their enemy, speaking an eldritch command word…and then waiting awkwardly for a little bit until it unleashed its magic at them? This problem, however, is easier to solve than it appears. Remember that this is taking place during a six-second round. Dividing a period of six seconds into forty segments means that each segment is slightly less than one-sixth of a second. In that case, if your wand of fireballs needs 3 segments to activate once you’ve spoken the command word, it’s taking just under half-a-second to activate…is that really so long?

By contrast, for spell-like abilities, it’s recommended that you take the opposite tact; spell-like abilities shouldn’t require a casting time measured in round segments, instead requiring only the usual standard action (unless otherwise noted) to activate.

Why allow that? Mostly for metagame reasons – spell-like abilities are the province of monsters far and away more than they are for characters. Most monsters have a set “screen time” before they’re hacked apart by the PCs and are gone forever. Given that, it’s best that the monsters – especially “boss monsters” that appear by themselves as challenges for the entire party – be able to maximize their potential by using their powers successfully, rather than having canny PCs set things up to disrupt them with held actions (true, PCs will try to use this on enemy spellcasters too, but those NPCs shouldn’t be solo foes, making it much more fair game).

Again, there’s also a narrative reason for having spell-like abilities take effect much quicker than spellcasting. Spell-like abilities represent a direct connection to magic, a natural ability to tap into mystical power. Spellcasting, by contrast, is an unnatural ability to tap that same power; utilizing a set of verbal, somatic, and material components to kludge together the same power – of course it’s not going to work quite as well, hence the longer casting time.

Finally, remember that both of the above are just recommendations. If you want magic items that don’t require longer times to activate, or spell-like abilities that do require round segments to active, make them work that way in your game.

Disrupted Casting

Being hit while you’re attempting to cast a spell is bad, but if you can make your concentration check, it’s not a fatal problem; you’ve still gotten your spell off.

Prepare to taste eldritch doom and please don't hit me!

Prepare to taste eldritch doom and please don’t hit me!

That’s far and away more generous than how it used to be. Back in the day, if you took damage while casting a spell, that was it – kiss your spell goodbye.

Reintroducing this limitation for Pathfinder is simple: All concentration checks are considered to automatically fail. In other words, if your PC ends up in a situation where you’d have to make a concentration check because something happened, you instantly lose the spell – there’s no check or roll, it’s just gone. This may sound harsh, and it is, but there’s one offshoot to this particular variant that makes it slightly easier to swallow: casting a spell does not provoke an attack of opportunity.

This may draw some complaints that it’s too easy to lock spellcasters down – that grappling them or entangling them, or even ensuring that they’re caught in harsh weather or are subject to “vigorous motion” is enough to make them useless, let alone being damaged in combat. The answer to this is that that’s intentional – spellcasters gain great power, eventually, but the trade-off for that power is that it’s difficult to utilize, and causes them to rely on their more martial allies to protect and aid them so that they can get their spells cast.

One particular complaint regarding this particular variant is that the easiest way to lock down a spellcaster is to have an enemy (most likely a ranged attacker) simply ready an action to attack whenever the spellcaster starts to cast a spell. This works by PCs attacking enemy spellcasters just as much as it does having NPCs target PC spellcasters.

This is not an insubstantial complaint. A dedicated ranged attacker can quickly make life difficult for a spellcaster. Ideally, a spellcaster will have things like a high AC (likely from a combination of spells and magic items), cover and/or concealment, and allies harassing the attacker to throw off such opposition.

Such things may still be lopsided in the attacker’s favor, however, in which case the following changed is recommended: soft cover stacks with itself. To put it another way, for every creature between you and a ranged attacker, you gain soft cover. So if there are three creatures between a wizard and an archer, the wizard will have triple soft cover (a +12 bonus to AC!) against the archer’s attacks. This encourages a much greater degree of tactical thinking – as well as meat-shield-style protect-the-mage tactics – in targeting enemy spellcasters. It also makes mooks good for a bit more than mere cannon-fodder.

Note that this rule holds true for spell-like abilities as well; utilizing such things may be a silent act of will, but still requires the same concentration as actual spellcasting, and so is equally vulnerable to disruption.

In regards to magic items, this variant rule applies only to spell trigger magic items (which is usually just scrolls). Using a spell trigger magic item is essentially spellcasting, with the energies contained in the scroll rather than within yourself, and so can be disrupted (and the scroll lost). Other kinds of magic items, by contrast, are simply having their imbued energies directed, rather than carefully constructed the way a spellcaster does.

Limited Learning

One of the wizard’s greatest powers is that the number of spells they can learn has no limit. True, only so many can be prepared at a time, but they can potentially learn every arcane spell out there – giving them access to potentially unlimited power, and allowing them the right tools to master virtually any situation. That has always been the real power of the wizard class.

Of course, by “always” we mean “since Third Edition.”

Believe it or not, back in earlier editions, there were caps on the number of spells that wizards could learn per spell level, based on their Intelligence. Maybe everyone conveniently “forgot” that rule, or perhaps it was simply discarded outright, but it’s notable for how potent a limit this is on a wizard’s power.

Originally, the exact limits on spells per level as determined by Intelligence was its own table, but for the reintroduction of this rule in Pathfinder, we can set a more general limit: spellcasters that must record the number of spells they learn – e.g. wizards and magi – can only learn a number of spells per spell level equal to their one-half their casting stat (rounded down). So in other words, a wizard with an Intelligence of 18 could learn nine 1st-level spells, nine 2nd-level spells, nine 3rd-level spells, etc.

A distinction needs to be made, in this case, between “spells learned” and “spells recorded in their spellbook.” While it may seem superfluous to do so, wizards and magi that want to prepare spells in their spellbook without learning them – either because they’ve already hit their limit, because they want to collect spells ahead of time and then figure out which ones to learn, or because their limit might go up later (e.g. gaining more points of Intelligence) – can do so using the standard rules for deciphering and copying magic writings (e.g. scrolls, borrowed spellbooks, etc.).

The spells that a wizard actually learns, however, should be recorded separately on the PC’s character sheet. There’s no need to institute a check for a PC to learn a spell, though if you decide to call for one a Spellcraft check (DC 15 + 1 per spell level) is a good baseline, with one check allowed per spell per day.

If using this rule in your game, you may also want to include an option that every so often (such as at 4th level and every even level thereafter) the wizard can permanently “forget” one spell that he’s learned, and replace it with another of the same level.

Note that, using this variant rule, you’ll need to decide what to do regarding wizards and magic items. With a limit on the spells they can prepare each day, most wizard and magus PCs will look to scrolls, wands, and staves to expand their repertoire. There are two ways to adjudicate this.

The first option is to allow these characters to still utilize all magic items as they would normally. A PC magus, for example, could use a scroll or a wand with an arcane spell on the magus spell list, even if it’s not one of the spells that particular PC has learned. The limiting factors here aren’t game mechanics, but rather are the GM taking care to control what magic items are available (as opposed to having anything the PCs want be available for the standard prices at “magic marts” in every town).

The other option is to play it much more strictly regarding magic items – specifically, spell completion and spell trigger magic items. In this case, the spells learned act as the PC’s entire class spell list, meaning that any spells not learned can’t be automatically utilized in corresponding magic items. In this instance, a magus PC that hasn’t learned a fireball spell won’t have any greater ability to utilize a wand of fireballs or a scroll of fireball any better than, say, the fighter would. Note that in this scenario, Use Magic Device becomes a much more sought-after skill.

Wizardly Woes

As mentioned above, each of these three variant rules can be used separately, or altogether. While individually they each introduce a sharp check on the power of spellcasting characters, altogether they can seem unreasonably harsh – particularly to wizards.

What’s key to remember is that these restrictions are meant to be the answer for spellcasters, particularly full-progression arcane spellcasters, from dominating the game at higher levels. If that’s not (anticipated to be) a problem in your game, then you won’t need many (or perhaps any) of these restrictions. On the other hand, if you think that wizards and other spellcasters are so powerful as to utterly overshadow fighters and their ilk at higher levels, then these can be very helpful indeed.

The zeitgeist of game design is that if one class or set of classes is better than another, you need to give the weaker class(es) new abilities to bump them up. With the variant rules introduced – or rather, reintroduced – here, you can instead bust the so-called “stronger” classes back down.

Suburban Knightmares

September 9, 2012

One of my favorite websites is The Spoony Experiment, a website where a fellow known as The Spoony One reviews various movies, video games, and other aspects of popular culture. While informative, the main draw of his reviews is, to me, the hysterical way he’ll tear them a new one for their faults – it’s internet snark at its finest.

Until recently, Spoony was a member of a collective of such reviewers known as That Guy With the Glasses. While it largely functions as a loose confederation, the various members of TGWTG will often make guest appearances in each other’s reviews. Usually these are quick cameos, but sometimes a review will turn into a fully-fledged crossover between two (or more) reviewers.

Sometimes, though, the TGWTG crew pulls out all the stops…

Each year, the reviewers get together and put on a large multi-part production as a group, turning the proverbial dials up to eleven when they do. One year it was a giant battle royal between them all, another year it was them trying to overthrow a country, etc. But there’s one such spectacle that’s of particular interest.

The 2011 TGWTG team-up was called Suburban Knights, and it involves the group going on an epic quest to recover a magical artifact…while dressed up as famous characters from various fantasy-based media. It’s pretty silly, but then, that’s sort of the point.

Before going any further, it should be noted that this article will contain SPOILERS. For what it’s worth, I recommend watching the mini-series, as it’s funny and only about as long as a feature film (e.g. about two hours).

Malecite

“Tell me, what do you think of the twenty-first century?”

The reason I’m going on about this is because of the villain in Suburban Knights, a ruthless sorcerer named Malecite (pronounced “malachite,” which I think is how they should spell it too, but the credits list it as “Malecite”). Malecite is searching for a powerful artifact that he created long ago – a gauntlet known as Malecite’s Hand – that will allow him to use his magic without drawing upon his life force.

Incredibly old, Malecite is driven by a deep hatred for the rise of technology that ended the reign of magic in the world. He has sought to regain Malecite’s Hand for millenia, as it gives him the power to cast spells with impunity, and thus bring about the end of the era of technology.

Available Character Points: 264 (level ten) + 30 CP (first-, third-, fifth-, seventh-, and ninth-level feats) + 6 (human bonus feat) + 10 (three disadvantages; Dependent, History, and Hunted) + 10 (Fast Learner) = 320 CP.

Malecite’s disadvantages represent his enduring obsession (for over two thousand years!) with finding his gauntlet, the reasons he lost it in the first place (which comes back to haunt him at the climax of the series), and that groups opposed to his finding it and carrying out his plan continually pop up (there have assuredly been others throughout the millenia who rose to combat Malecite’s ambition).

The above notes that, as a 10th-level character, Malecite has five feats from his levels. This is in reference to Pathfinder’s increased pace of giving characters feats – every odd-numbered level, rather than every third level. While it’s only a difference of one feat here, by 20th level, this results in a Pathfinder-based Eclipse character having 18 CP more than a “normal” (e.g. 3.5-based) Eclipse character.

Of course, that’s just looking at feats alone – the gap between Pathfinder and 3.5, as judged in Eclipse, is actually slightly wider. For example, Pathfinder characters in Eclipse get the Pathfinder Package deal, which I’ve mentioned before, worth 12 CP. Even beyond that, if we stick to the Pathfinder paradigm of giving characters “traits” – two “half-feats” at character creation that help to flesh out their back-story and give small bonuses – that’s another 6 CP (since Eclipse prices a feat as being 6 CP, that’s what two “half-feats” are worth).

This is another benefit to using Eclipse as opposed to straight class-and-level builds – the CP breakdowns make comparison much easier. In this case, we can see that by 20th level, a Pathfinder character (that uses the traits rule) has gotten one-and-a-half more levels’ worth of abilities over his 3.5 counterparts (and don’t forget to compare racial builds – a Pathfinder-Eclipse human gets 13 CP, compared to a 3.5-Eclipse human getting 9 CP).

Ability Scores (25-point build): Str 12, Dex 16, Con 16, Int 17, Wis 10, Cha 12. These include his human racial bonus (applied to Intelligence), and the +1 bonuses from Improved Self-Development at levels 4 and 8 (added to Constitution and Dexterity, respectively).

Given that he’s incredibly ancient, as well as a pioneer of magic in the world, it seems appropriate for Malecite to have such a large point-buy allotment.

Human Traits

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills (3 CP).
  • Humans get to pick which attribute enjoys the Pathfinder Template bonus – buying off a Corruption worth (4 CP).

Basic Purchases (97 CP)

  • 10d6 Hit Dice (20 CP).
  • +5 Warcraft (30 CP).
  • +3 Fort save (9 CP).
  • +7 Reflex save (21 CP).
  • +3 Will save (9 CP).
  • One simple weapon proficiency (quarterstaff) (1 CP).
  • 7 skill points (7 CP).

Skills

Ranks

Ability Bonus

Class Bonus

Total

Acrobatics

4

+3 Dex

+3

+10

Intimidate

6

+1 Cha

+3

+10

Knowledge (arcana)

7

+3 Int

+3

+14

Knowledge (earth and life sciences)

2

+3 Int

+3

+8

Knowledge (physical sciences)

2

+3 Int

+3

+8

Knowledge (technology)

2

+3 Int

+3

+8

Linguistics

2

+3 Int

+3

+8

Martial Arts (urban staff combat)

10

+3 Dex

+3

+16

Perception

1

+0 Wis

+3

+5

Spellcraft

7

+3 Int

+3

+14

Stealth

2

+3 Dex

+3

+8

Survival

2

+0 Wis

+3

+5

Malecite has a grand total of 47 skill points. 40 from his +3 Intelligence bonus and 1 racial bonus rank over ten levels; the other 7 are from CP expenditures. As per the Pathfinder Package Deal, Malecite gets to have twelve skills (in addition to Craft and Profession) be class skills – these twelve are those in the table above.

The Urban Staff Combat martial art skill is from the Emergence Campaign Weblog. With a total bonus of +16, Malecite has learned eight techniques: Attack 2, Defense 4, Power 1, and Strike.

Three of Malecite’s Knowledge skills (earth and life sciences, physical sciences, and technology) are d20 Modern skills. Likewise, the bonus languages he gets from his ranks in Linguistics are deliberately undefined; anyone who’s been alive for millenia most assuredly has learned to speak more than one language!

Presuming that his Hit Dice received average rolls (after the first, which is maximized), then with his Constitution bonus Malecite should have a total of 67 hit points.

Special Abilities (165 CP)

  • 10 caster levels/specialized as sorcerer only for half cost (30 CP).
  • Metamagic/Triggering (6 CP).
  • Metamagic/Easy (6 CP).
  • Metamagic/Compact (6 CP).
  • Create Relic (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner (6 CP).
  • Expertise (6 CP).

Expertise here grants Malecite +3 additional attacks of opportunity per round.

  • Occult Sense (6 CP) with the Improved modifier (+6 CP). Malecite can sense magic itself, and knows when one of his spells has been dispelled, cancelled, or otherwise undone.
  • Immunity/aging (uncommon/minor/legendary; 12 CP).
  • Block (6 CP) with the Catch modifier (+6 CP). This is set to affect missile weapon attacks.
  • Occult Ritual (6 CP).
  • Martial Arts (3 CP).

This is the special ability that lets him strike unarmed without provoking an AoO, rather than the skill listed above.

  • Body Fuel (6 CP) with the Efficient (x3; 18 CP), Versatile (6 CP), Reserve (x3; 18 CP), and Blood Magic (6 CP) modifiers.

Sinking so many CP into Body Fuel is how Malecite is still able to use magic so freely despite it draining his life force when he doesn’t have the gauntlet. While he has no magic levels himself, he can create one spell level per 2 hit points sacrificed (1 hit point for 0-level spells), and has 72 “phantom” hit points that can only be used for this purpose. He may also add up to +4 levels of metamagic that he knows to spells he casts – either with or without the gauntlet – by sacrificing an appropriate number of hit points.

Spells Known (23 CP)

Malecite knows the following spells: death blow* (2 CP), dominate person (1 CP), call lightning (arcane variant; 2 CP), cone of cold (fire variant; 2 CP), escape velocity* (2 CP), fireball (1 CP), fireball (electrical variant; 2 CP), heart breaker* (2 CP), invisibility (1 CP), locate object (1 CP), mage hand (1 CP), magic missile (1 CP), stoneskin (1 CP), trap the soul (variant that uses an ancient book rather than a diamond, and can release a prisoner via writing in the book rather than being destroyed; 2 CP), tremors* (2 CP).

These spells are bought via the sidebar on Eclipse page 11. The standard spells cost 1 CP each, while the original variants that Malecite invented cost 2 CP each. Note that these also count as Spells Known when Malecite is using Malecite’s Hand.

This is bending the rules slightly – when using Malecite’s Hand, Malecite is a spontaneous spellcaster, and should be paying double the costs listed above for his spells. However, since he’s technically buying these for use with his Body Fuel spellcasting powers, he’s paying the non-spontaneous prices. It’s a bit of cheese, but we’ll let it slide considering that he doesn’t have the gauntlet most of the time.

The spells marked with an asterisk are new spells, described as follows:

Death Blow; School transmutation; Level sorcerer/wizard 4; Casting Time 1 standard action; Components V, S; Range touch; Target creature or object touched; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance yes.

This spell allows you to hit a foe for massive damage. A creature or object successfully struck with an unarmed strike (not merely a touch attack) takes 1d6 points of damage per caster level (10d6 maximum). A creature killed by this spell is apparently struck by a blow of epic proportions (e.g. punched to pieces, launched into orbit, etc.) and leaves behind no physical body unless the caster wishes to do so.

Escape Velocity; School conjuration (teleportation); Level sorcerer/wizard 7; Casting Time 1 standard action; Components V, S; Range adjacent; Target one creature; Duration 1d4+1 rounds; Saving Throw Reflex negates; Spell Resistance yes.

A creature hit with this spell is apparently knocked into orbit (or otherwise launched into the atmosphere) for 1d4+1 rounds. While this seems to be because of a physical blow, the target is actually launched by a teleportation effect. Due to disorientation, a creature can take no actions while so teleported, and the caster does not know how long they will be gone.

At the end of the spell’s duration, the target lands prone in their original space. If now occupied, the target lands in the closest unoccupied space, and the creature occupying their original space is also knocked prone. If used indoors, with no way to send a creature outside (e.g. a window), the spell apparently sends them into a wall at great speed, causing them to be dazed for 1d4+1 rounds.

Heart Breaker; School necromancy [death]; Level druid 6, sorcerer/wizard 5; Casting Time 1 standard action; Components V, S; Range adjacent; Target one living creature; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw Fortitude partial; Spell Resistance yes.

This spell allows the caster to attempt to rip out a living creature’s heart. On a failed save, the target creature takes 5 points of damage per caster level (maximum 75 points); creatures reduced to 0 hit points or less have their heart torn out of their body. On a successful save, they take 3d6 points of damage + 1 per caster level (maximum of +15). Only living creatures with a heart (GM’s prerogative) are subject to this spell.

Tremors; School evocation [earth]; Level bard 6, sorcerer/wizard 6; Range short (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels); Area 40 ft. radius spread.

This spell functions as earthquake, except as follows. The spell has only a 30% chance of causing the roof to collapse in a cave, cavern, or tunnel, a 40% chance of causing a cliff to collapse, does not open fissures on open ground, deals 25 points of damage to a structure (typically only enough to cause poorly-constructed structures to collapse completely), and water in the area is treated as being one degree rougher, as defined by the Swim skill (e.g. calm water becomes rough water, rough water becomes stormy water).

Malecite’s Hand (35 CP)

Something of a misnomer, this relic is actually the gemstone embedded on the back of the gauntlet. It bestows immense spellcasting powers on whomever wears it, though only slight control over those powers. This is usually more than enough to tempt its wearer into studying magic further (e.g. developing further base caster levels).

  • 13 sorcerer magic levels (no built-in caster levels) (169 CP).
  • 3 sorcerer caster levels (9 CP).
  • Fast general metamagic upgrade (6 CP).
  • 24 ranks in Spellcraft/corrupted for increased effect – may only be used to power Occult Rituals (24 CP).

The above shows how Malecite’s power is increased dramatically with the gauntlet – the magic levels let him use his spellcasting with much less difficulty, falling back on Body Fuel as a way of enhancing his metamagic. Moreover, it gives him enough ranks in Spellcraft to cast incredibly powerful ritual magic – this was how he was going to cast the spell to bring about the end of the age of technology before Ma-Ti interrupted him.

The above is also a good example of why GMs should limit how much CP a character is allowed to sink into a relic. With its sixfold multiplier, sinking almost one-and-a-half levels’ worth of abilities into a relic is a recipe for some truly atrocious creations. Of course, Malecite did lose it for over two thousand years, making it more of a mcguffin than anything else, which is probably the best way to handle such a thing.

Looking over Malecite’s stats, there are some areas of relative deficiency. For example, even when using his Urban Staff Combat martial art, Malecite is going to have a total AC of 17, which is woeful for a 10th-level character. Likewise, his hit points are about what you’d expect for a sorcerer of his level, which is to say that they’re not that great. It’s thanks to the comparatively weak opposition he faced in Suburban Knights (e.g. characters of much lower level) that he was able to mow through them so easily.

Likewise, I have a suspicion that I probably could have modeled Malecite’s spellcasting more artfully. Instead of essentially giving him two forms of spellcasting (generic spell levels from Body Fuel, and sorcerer magic levels in the relic), it probably would have been better to have him buy the magic levels himself with a corruption or specialization to them, which the gauntlet would have bought off.

As it stands, despite his personal power and possessing the gauntlet, Malecite lost because Ma-Ti just happened to have the relic that was created specifically to defeat Malecite. This was explained poorly in the film – I remain convinced that, in the segment where the camera zooms in on Ma-Ti’s ring, what you should hear is the Voice of the Ancient World explaining how Aeon created a ring with a loadstone capable of reflecting Malecite’s magic back at him, rather than what was played (the bit about technology being Aeon’s legacy); that would have made much more sense.

That said, if you ever want Malecite to make a dramatic return for your game, I hope the above stats help you do it.

Special thanks to Spellweaver81 and Burning8bones for their suggestions on writing this character!

A Legendary Burnout

August 26, 2012

There’s a syndrome that affects thousands of gamers every year, and yet has received little coverage even inside the gaming community: supplement burnout. I’m sad to say that lately, I’ve started to fall victim to it myself.

“I’m afraid we’ll need to amputate your Core Rulebook.”

Supplement burnout can be caused by many things, but is usually due to a combination of the cost of new books, a perceived deficiency in the time and energy needed to read and absorb them, and diminished opportunity to use newly purchased materials in the game. Simply put, when you buy an expensive book, but don’t have enough time to read it and don’t think you’ll be able to put it to practical use, it’s hard to get excited about even more books coming down the line.

For me, what tipped the scales was Paizo’s Advanced Race Guide, more specifically the chapter on point-buy race construction. Well, sort of. Let’s back up a bit.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll probably have noticed the passing references I’ve made to Distant Horizons Games’ book Eclipse: The Codex Persona. This book has long been of interest to me, as it makes character creation into a point-buy system that allows for unprecedented flexibility while still being compatible with 3.5 and Pathfinder. Eclipse – and its sister supplement The Practical Enchanter – are, to me, the epitome of the “options, not restrictions” ethos of Third Edition.

Hence why the Advanced Race Guide’s point-buy race-creation system depressed me, even though the rest of my gaming group was invigorated by it. To me, it was being celebrated for offering a limited subset of something that had long been available.

Now, this wasn’t the be-all and end-all of my supplement burnout. This had been building for a while – the endless parade of support materials, first from WotC and then Paizo (to their credit Paizo kept the supplement treadmill slow at first, but it’s been increasing with each passing year), as well as the proliferation of third-party products, had all taken their toll on me.

The difference was that now, I foresaw a means of putting an end to a lot of that burnout, at least for a while. Eclipse isn’t the answer to everything – pre-made adventures are still a favorite of mine, for example – but in terms of building PCs, NPCs, and even monsters, it pretty well does whatever I can think of (and, to give credit where credit is due, if there was something I couldn’t think of, I posted on the author’s blog – the Emergence Campaign Weblog, over on the blogroll to the right – and he was very nicely willing to tell me how to use the system to do so).

Given that, I’m trying to convince my group to let my next character be made with Eclipse. I’m encountering a bit more resistance than I expected – apparently the free-form options of a point-buy system unnerve them – but it’s something I’m really excited for.

Ergo, in order to brush up on making Eclipse characters, I’ve been trying my hand at some sample characters lately. These aren’t meant to be PCs, but rather are meant to build my familiarity with the system. Of course, since Eclipse is used to build characters, I decided (largely for my own amusement) to make stats for existing characters from various media.

Suit Up

This first sample character is, wait for it…legendary! Straight from CBS’ hit show How I Met Your Mother, this is Barney Stinson.

“First level? More like twenty-first level, am I right?”

If this seems like an odd character to start with, I admit that it is. What’s most significant here is that Barney is an undeniably first-level character, and is realistically defined, being from a sitcom set in the real world. Of course, what makes the character so much fun is that he bends the rules of what’s “realistically” possible, and so has a few more tricks up his finely-tailored suit sleeve than an ordinary person…

Available Character Points: 48 CP (level one) + 6 CP (level one feat) + 6 CP (human bonus feat) + 10 CP (three disadvantages; History, Showman, and Valuable) + 2 CP (duties to Goliath National Bank) = 72 CP.

Ability Scores (elite array): Str 10, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 17 (base score 15 +2 racial bonus).

Human Traits

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills (3 CP).
  • Humans get to pick which attribute enjoys the Pathfinder Template bonus – buying off a Corruption worth (4 CP).

This last bullet point is an indicator that Barney’s stats are built using the Pathfinder Package Deal, found at Eclipse Pathfinder – Basics and Races.

Basic Purchases (42 CP)

  • d12 Hit Die (8 CP).

Given that Barney survived being hit by a bus at full speed, he clearly isn’t too lacking where hit points are concerned. At the same time, he didn’t exactly shrug it off either, so he only has one hit die, albeit a large one. Since the first hit die is maximized, this plus his Con bonus gives him 14 hit points.

  • +2 to all saves (18 CP).
  • 16 skill points (16 CP).

Barney’s basic purchases illustrate why most modern characters aren’t adventurers: there’s simply no reason for them to invest significant time and expense in combat training, let alone studying how to effectively use weapons and armor. Rather, it’s far more worthwhile to learn new skills. As there is no “Pathfinder Modern,” Barney’s skills are an amalgamation of Pathfinder and d20 Modern skills, as listed below. As per the Pathfinder Package Deal, Barney treats Profession and twelve other skills as being class skills.

Skill

Ranks

Ability Bonus

Class Bonus

Other

Total

Acrobatics

1

+1 Dex

+2

Appraise

1

+0 Int, +3 Cha

+3

+7

Bluff

1

+3 Cha

+3

+3 Skill Focus

+10

Computer Use

1

+0 Int, +3 Cha

+3

+7

Diplomacy

1

+3 Cha

+3

+2 Wealth

+9

Disguise

1

+3 Cha

+3

+7

Gamble

1

-1 Wis

+3

+3

Knowledge (business)

1

+0 Int, +3 Cha

+3

+7

Knowledge (popular culture)

1

+0 Int, +3 Cha

+3

+7

Linguistics*

1

+0 Int, +3 Cha

+3

+7

Perform (art)

1

+3 Cha

+4

Perform (dance)

1

+3 Cha

+3

+7

Perform (keyboards)

1

+3 Cha

+4

Perform (sing)

1

+3 Cha

+3

+7

Profession (executive)

1

-1 Wis

+3

+2 Wealth

+5

Sense Motive

1

-1 Wis

+0

Sleight of Hand

1

+1 Dex

+3

+5

Swim

1

+0 Str

+1

*we’ll bend the rules here a little, and grant Barney extra languages based on his ranks and class bonus, rather than ranks alone. Hence, in addition to his native English, Barney can speak Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Special Abilities (30 CP)

  • Skill Focus: Bluff (6 CP)
  • Wealth Level Template: Affluent (6 CP)

Okay, this one is actually being cribbed from the CP costs for Wealth Level Templates (found in The Practical Enchanter) over on Twilight Isles World Laws and Character Creation. In this case, Barney won’t have access to magic items, obviously, but we’ll say that it does provide access to masterwork items that aren’t under a military-grade restriction. We’ll also bend the rules a bit again and say that the clause about “provides an extra skill point when you gain a level while possessing this template” also counts at 1st level.

  • Augmented Bonus/Add Charisma modifier to Int-based skills (6 CP).
  • Mana with the Reality Editing and Unskilled Magic options (12 CP).

Barney has 4 points of personal mana. Using Reality Editing is how he is often able to perform some of his more “coincidental” stunts. The Unskilled Magic option is how Barney is able to accomplish the ones that would normally be completely impossible, like remaining underwater for twelve minutes without difficulty, win the New York City Marathon without any training, or have brief telepathic conversations with his friends (note that we’re waving the rule that in order to cast a spell, your caster level – which is his Hit Dice when using Unskilled Magic – must be [(spell level x 2) -1]). Of course, the spells he uses to do that are fairly specific, as follows:

Apnea; School transmutation; Level druid 1, sorcerer/wizard 1, ranger 1; Casting Time 1 standard action; Components V, S, M (a small inflated balloon); Range touch; Target living creature touched; Duration special; Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless).

Apnea allows you to hold your breath for 1 minute per point of Constitution, after which time the spell expires and you become subject to the normal rules for holding your breath. If you cease holding your breath prematurely, the spell ends.

Stud’s stamina; School transmutation; Level sorcerer/wizard 2, druid 2; Casting Time 1 standard action; Components V, S; Range touch; Target living creature touched; Duration 1 hour per level; Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless).

Stud’s stamina grants a +10 bonus to Constitution checks. Note that this does not apply to Constitution-based skills.

Telepathic conversation; School divination; Level sorcerer/wizard 2; Range 30 ft.; Target you plus one willing creature; Duration 1 minute (D).

Telepathic conversation functions like telepathic bond, except as listed above.

Now, if you’ve never used Eclipse before, the above likely looks confusing, if not outright off-putting. As such, I’m going to “translate” the above into a typical Pathfinder stat block. A few things of note – I’ve listed Barney’s class as “Eclipse hero.” Similarly, I’ve removed his alignment listing (as those are always controversial when trying to assign them to an existing character) and replaced it with d20 Modern-style allegiances.

Barney Stinson CR 1/2

XP 200

Male human eclipse hero 1

Medium humanoid (human)

Allegiances his friends; Goliath National Bank

Init +1; Senses Perception -1


DEFENSE


AC 11, touch 11, flat-footed 10 (+1 Dex)

hp 14 (1d12+2)

Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +1


OFFENSE


Speed 30 ft.


STATISTICS


Str 10, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 17

Base Atk +0; CMB +0; CMD 11

Feats Skill Focus (Bluff)

Skills Acrobatics +2, Appraise +7, Bluff +10, Computer Use +7, Diplomacy +9, Disguise +7, Gamble +3, Knowledge (business) +7, Knowledge (popular culture) +7, Linguistics +7, Perform (art) +4, Perform (dance) +7, Perform (keyboards) +4, Perform (sing) +7, Profession (executive) +5, Sense Motive +0, Sleight of Hand +5, Swim +1

Languages English, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian

SQ augmented bonus, mana (4 points, reality editing, unskilled magic), wealth template: affluent

This is the first of several such characters I’ll be portraying with Eclipse in the near future. My hope is to turn more people on to this vastly under-appreciated book. So until next time, stay awesome!

Erom Gib Nuf

July 14, 2012

Here’s the next in the series of Spellfire cards-turned-NPCs that I spoke about previously. This time it’s the first “Gib” card ever printed, Gib Ekim.

Gib Ekim was the first in a handful of cards that, as you can see to the left, had a split level designation, which the text on her card indicates are her levels as a wizard and as a fighter. Despite how obvious it seems now, at the time it took me a little while to realize that this was meant to be indicative of her being a multiclass character (or rather, “dual-class,” as we said back during AD&D Second Edition).

In converting Gib Ekim to Pathfinder, this presented some interesting decisions regarding how much to “tailor” her conversion. Obviously I’d need to fill in some areas using my own judgment, since a Pathfinder stat block is much more complicated than a Spellfire card, but there were a few aspects of converting her character that gave me pause.

Her levels were a big one. While I was initially intent on converting her levels as shown, making her a wizard 5/fighter 7, I couldn’t help but be struck by just how poor that build was. After all, multiclassing can really cripple a character if the classes don’t complement each other, and that was the case with a straight wizard/fighter build. But at the same time, I wanted to be true to her original depiction on the card.

Ultimately, I compromised. While she still has a total of twelve levels, I split the difference by giving her as few levels of wizard and fighter as I could while devoting the rest to levels of eldritch knight. This kept most of the abilities she’d have from her fighter levels, while at the same time saving most of her abilities as a wizard.

Beyond that, most of Gib Ekim’s build is structured around buffing her AC. Given that her picture (which, like virtually all Spellfire cards, is recycled art that TSR owned) didn’t show her wearing heavy armor or using a shield, I elected to find a number of less-direct methods of helping her avoid being hit. If you elect to use her in your game, please let me know if her design worked!

GIB EKIM

This beautiful woman regards you warily, dropping her backpack to the ground in anticipation, but without apparent hostility. Dressed in a fairly skimpy garb, she has no armor save for an odd crown-like headpiece over her long wavy brown hair. One hand falls to the hilt of her blade, which along with her crossbow are the only weapons she seems to be carrying.

Gib Ekim CR 11

XP 12,800

Female human wizard 5/fighter 1/eldritch knight 6

CG Medium humanoid (human)

Init +2; Senses Perception +9


DEFENSE


AC 19, touch 13, flat-footed 17 (+6 armor, +2 Dex, +1 deflection)

hp 73 (5d6+10 plus 7d10+7)

Fort +6, Ref +7, Will +7


OFFENSE


Speed 30 ft.

Melee masterwork cold iron longsword +13/+8 (1d8+3/19-20)

Ranged masterwork light crossbow +12 (1d8/19-20)

Special Atks Arcane Strike, Combat Expertise, hand of the apprentice 3/day, Vital Strike

Spells Prepared (CL 10th; concentration +13)

5thbaleful polymorph (DC 18), hold monster (DC 18)

4thfire shield, lesser globe of invulnerability, stoneskin (DC 17)

3rdfireball (DC 16), gaseous form (SM), protection from energy (DC 16), slow (DC 16)

2ndcat’s grace (DC 15), darkvision (DC 15; SM), false life, glitterdust (DC 15), scorching ray

1stendure elements (DC 14), feather fall, magic missile, ray of enfeeblement (DC 14), shield

0 – detect magic, detect poison, disrupt undead, mage hand

Arcane School universal


STATISTICS


Str 16, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 17, Wis 8, Cha 12

Base Atk +9; CMB +12; CMD 25

Feats Arcane Armor Training, Arcane Armor Mastery, Arcane Strike, Combat Expertise, Dodge, Eschew Materials, Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, Scribe Scroll, Spell Mastery, Toughness, Vital Strike

Skills Knowledge (arcana) +16, Knowledge (dungeoneering) +14, Knowledge (history) +14, Knowledge (local) +14, Knowledge (nobility) +14, Perception +9, Sense Motive +12, Spellcraft +16

Languages Common,

SQ arcane bond (ring), diverse training

Spellbook as spells prepared, plus

5thinterposing hand, passwall

4thdetect scrying, illusory wall (DC 17)

3rdphantom steed (SM), water breathing (DC 16)

2ndknock, whispering wind

1stalarm, unseen servant

0 – acid splash, arcane mark, bleed (DC 13), dancing lights, daze (DC 13), flare (DC 13), ghost sound (DC 13), light, mending (DC 13), message, open/close (DC 13), prestidigitation, ray of frost, read magic, resistance (DC 13), touch of fatigue (DC 13)

“SM” indicates spells utilized with the Spell Mastery feat

Gear masterwork cold iron longsword, masterwork light crossbow, 30 bolts, +2 glamered chain shirt, ring of protection +1, minor crown of blasting, scrolls (CL 10) of detect scrying, illusory wall, passwall, phantom steed, and water breathing, diamond dust (750 gp), 10 days’ trail rations, waterskin, 50 ft. silk rope, spellbook, explorer’s outfit, backpack, bedroll, blue sapphire (1,000 gp), golden yellow topaz (500 gp), 2 silver pearls (100 gp each), 53 gp, 9 sp


SPECIAL ABILITIES


Hand of the Apprentice (Su): Gib Ekim can cause her longsword to fly from her grasp and strike a foe before instantly returning to her. As a standard action, she can make a single attack using a melee weapon at a range of 30 feet. This attack is treated as a ranged attack with a thrown weapon, except that her attack bonus is +12. This ability cannot be used to perform a combat maneuver. She can use this ability three times per day.

Gib Ekim is one of an exceptionally small band of individuals across myriad worlds and planes who have taken the prefix “Gib” in front of their name. While their reasons for doing so are unclear, as they never volunteer information about their organization – indeed, usually denying that they’re part of an organization at all, but rather coincidentally possess similar names – though it seems to have something to do with the notorious Gib Htimsen.

In combat, Ekim tends to focus on defense while she tries to discern her opponents’ abilities. She always uses false life and endure elements each morning, and will use shield as soon as a fight breaks out, following it up with lesser globe of invulnerability, stoneskin, fire shield, and protection from energy, in that order. If her opponents consistently hit her, she’ll use her Combat Expertise feat to its fullest.

Ekim prefers to fight at range. She’ll use her hand of the apprentice ability first before falling back on her crossbow. She’ll target truly dangerous martial fighters with hold monster, and dangerous spellcasters with baleful polymorph. In the event that defeat seems imminent, she’ll try and flee using gaseous form or her scroll of phantom steed. If needing to use a spell that she hasn’t prepared (or has already expended), she’ll use her arcane bond with her ring to cast it again.

What’s Old Is Young Again

July 2, 2012

It should be self-evident, due to this blog, that I’m a fan of Paizo. I have been for a while; ever since they formed to keep Dragon and Dungeon magazines alive, in fact. But for all my admiration of the excellent material Paizo continue to put out to this day, it’s the indie third-party publishers whose work excites me most.

Part of this is the ingenuity that comes from these smaller companies. While bigger outfits have to play it somewhat safe to protect their sales margins, a company that’s run by a couple of guys (or even just one guy) as a hobby is free to experiment with something more “out there,” regardless of market potential. Admittedly, a lot of the time this doesn’t work, and production values (such as editing, interior art, etc.) can vary wildly, but when everything clicks it can produce pure gold.

The other great thing about third-party publishers is that they’re more likely to be open to freelancers who submit unsolicited material. While larger companies can afford to produce their products in-house, and/or have a stable of well-known freelancers with proven track records, a smaller company is more open to working with an unknown. This is particularly true in terms of judging a work on its own merits, rather than having to consider issues of scheduled releases, typsetting and layout, and name-recognition.

Yeah, this is rather long. How about a picture of a lively kitten to help?

Given all of the above, it’s probably no surprise that, prior to starting this blog, smaller third-party publishers were my venue of choice for when I had a Pathfinder (or, prior to August, 2009, 3.X) idea that I wanted to share with everyone. True, I could have posted them on a messageboard or home-made website, but like most would-be game designers, I’m narcissistic enough to want the unspoken tag of “official third-party” hanging over my work. In fact, to me that’s often more important than being paid for the submission (though it’s nicer to be paid in addition to that distinction).

There were several third-parties that I worked (and still work) with. One of the more esoteric ones, however, was The Grand OGL Wiki.

Started back in September of 2008, the Grand OGL Wiki is the culmination of an idea that was gaining popularity at the time – that of compiling a free online repository of Open Game Content materials from various publishers. While this seems obvious to us Pathfinder fans now that we have the d20PFSRD website, it was fairly controversial back in the day. A lot of people, including some publishers, were critical of the idea, claiming that it robbed companies of the profits for their hard work by making it available for free – “after all,” the reasoning went “why would anyone buy something if all of the crunchy bits are a few keystrokes away?”

Again, we know better now, but at the time more than a few people thought that was sound reasoning. Still, for every person who thought that way, there was another (including plenty of publishers) who thought it was a great idea.

It might have remained just an idea (since, as I recall, there were a few aborted attempts) had not Mark Gedak stepped up to the plate and formed The Grand OGL Wiki. From the very beginning, Mark was classy about his approach to the GOW (as it came to be called), always making sure that he had a publisher’s permission before reposting their Open Game Content, despite the fact that under the terms of the OGL, he could have done it anyway. Several publishers even allowed him to repost some of their Product Identity as well (though still closed, so it could not be subsequently reposted elsewhere).

And here it… wait… this isn’t the picture I uploaded.

Mark put out an open call for people to help him post content, and several people responded, myself included. Of course, I quickly lost steam after posting a comparatively small amount, so my contribution remains miniscule compared to that of others.

Of course, Mark eventually aimed his sights even higher, and eventually started his own third-party publishing company, Purple Duck Games, which puts out a number of excellent products.

This isn’t to say that the Grand OGL Wiki has been allowed to languish, of course. Just the fact that the link to it and the link to Purple Duck Games lead to the same page should be enough to put the lie to that. Indeed, Mark continues to quietly update the GOW with more Open Game Content to this day, in addition to expanding Purple Duck’s catalogue.

There is one aspect of the GOW that has been allowed to fall into disuse, however, and it’s the reason for today’s post. In late March, 2009, Mark expanded on the GOW’s original mission and created the DM Sketchpad. From then until February, 2010 (with bits and pieces up through that November), the DM Sketchpad was the place Mark posted new material he’d written, making it all Open Game Content.

He also allowed anyone else to submit material, something which suited me quite well, for reasons posted above. Thus, I became an infrequent contributor to the DM Sketchpad, sending various new rules material that I’d written (along with sending in requests for material, something Mark encouraged).

Nowadays, the DM Sketchpad is still around, though accessing the older pages require that you manipulate URL (the last four digits, specifically, to showcase the month and year that you want to see) a little bit. Given that the material on there is all Open Game Content, and isn’t easily accessible any longer, I’ve decided to repost my original submissions here for wider access.

To be clear, what I’ll be posting here is only my own work; the material done by Mark and others (including material written based on requests I submitted) will not be reposted here. With that said, let’s turn to today’s piece from yester-year.

Updated Actuarial Tables

A recent discussion on the Paizo messageboards mentioned how elves in Pathfinder weren’t so much “eternally young” as they were “eternally old.” While that’s a slight exaggeration, it does highlight how the longer-lived PC races can spend a lot of time being, well…old.  Afterall, according to the Aging Effects table, elves can spend up to four hundred years being “venerable” age! It was with that thought in mind that I wrote the following:

The listed aging effects never seemed entirely sensible to me where demihumans were concerned. Why does an elf have the potential to spend up to four hundred years – more than half his life – in the venerable age category? The gnome is in a similar position, and a halfling could spend literally half his life that way. That doesn’t seem plausible, so I rewrote the aging effects table.

This table reduces the maximum age each race can live down to a single die roll. The excess dice had their averages added to the venerable age category, and the other age categories were modified to match, as each race has their middle age category as exactly half their venerable age, with old age being the mid-point between them.

For example, elves normally have a maximum age of 350 + 4d% years. This takes the average of three of those d% dice (50 each) and adds them to the venerable age category, making it 500 years, and the elf’s maximum lifespan is now 500 + d% years. This adjusts middle age to be 250 years (half of venerable) and old age to be 375 (halfway between middle age and venerable). While this slightly shortens the maximum number of years a given race could live, for most people it actually heightens how long they’re likely to live, and broadens the range of each age category.

One notable exception to this rule is that humans have not had their age category altered. This is because the maximum age for humans, 70 + 2d20 years, does adequately cover the range of how long a healthy human can live. Since humans are commonly thought of as being the most adaptable and versatile of all races, having a comparatively broad maximum age fits with this image.

TABLE: REVISED AGING EFFECTS

Race Middle Age1 Old2 Venerable3 Maximum Age
Human 35 years 53 years 70 years 70 + 2d20 years
Dwarf 150 years 225 years 300 years 300 + d% years
Elf 250 years 375 years 500 years 500 + d% years
Gnome 150 years 225 years 300 years 300 + d% years
Half-elf 73 years 109 years 145 years 145 + d20 years
Half-orc 33 years 49 years 65 years 65 + d10 years
Halfling 70 years 105 years 140 years 140 + d20 years

1 At middle age, –1 to Str, Dex, and Con; +1 to Int, Wis, and Cha.

2 At old age, –2 to Str, Dex, and Con; +1 to Int, Wis, and Cha.

3 At venerable age, –3 to Str, Dex, and Con; +1 to Int, Wis, and Cha.

Needless to say, this seems to make things a lot simpler for the demihuman races (bonus points if you remember when “demihuman” was a much more common term), particularly since now they’ll remain younger longer.

After all, the longer you remain young, the easier it is spend your youth killing things and taking their stuff.

The Beast Within

June 23, 2012

Blame this one on Doctor Who.

This guy gave me a devil of an idea.

I don’t actually watch Doctor Who (blasphemy, I know) but from time to time I’ll hear things about it from people who do. One such instance was someone online mentioning the episode “The Satan Pit.” Reading the synopsis, I was struck by how the Doctor deduced that the Beast’s animalistic behavior meant that it’s mind was quite literally elsewhere. That’s not how it works in Pathfinder!

In Pathfinder, whenever your mind (or spirit, etc.) leaves your body, your body immediately goes into a catatonic state. Only the autonomic functions continue, with everything else having exited along with your consciousness. Hence, I immediately started considering ways to make this alternate approach – allowing your body to function, but without sapience – possible in Pathfinder. The result is the following feat:

Retain Id

When you leave your body, your primal instincts take control of it.

Prerequisite: Charisma 13.

Benefit: When your mind leaves your body (e.g. astral projection), your subconscious mind remains and assumes direct control of your body, albeit in an animalistic state. In this condition your body has an Intelligence of 2 which cannot be raised (e.g. by fox’s cunning), and cannot speak or understand any languages. Your body is unable to use any tools (including manufactured weapons), spellcasting or psionic powers, or spell-like or psi-like abilities. It cannot use any Intelligence-, Wisdom-, or Charisma-based skills (save for Intimidate), nor the Ride skill. It cannot use any ability that requires patience or concentration.

Your subconscious mind retains your memories in this state, such as knowledge of who is friend or foe, but has an effective alignment of Neutral. While in this state, your body may be influenced with wild empathy as though it were an animal. Any consciousness that enters your body during this time (such as a ghost using malevolence) automatically overpowers your subconscious and takes control of your body. When your mind returns to your body, you do not remember what your subconscious did while in control.

Now admittedly, this is a situation that doesn’t come up very often. Few are the spells that separate your mind and body, and there are only marginally more psionic powers that do so. Still, I wanted to put this option out there for players who make a PC that, in some manner, spends a fair amount of time divorced from their physical body.

The major benefit from this feat is that it keeps your body active, preventing it from helplessly waiting for someone to coup de grace it. In this state, it may not be able to fight very well (particularly if it has no natural weapons or unarmed strikes), but it can at least detect danger and try to flee from it.

Of course, enterprising GMs can also use this feat as well, as there’s no telling what trouble your body may get into if left without a guiding intelligence. Characters who use this feat would be wise to leave someone behind to watch over their body, even if it can act on its own.

When Bark Really Is Worse Than Bite

June 10, 2012

A little while ago, I entered Kobold Quarterly’s King of the Monsters 3 contest. Unfortunately, my entry didn’t make it to the finals. As such, I’ve decided to repost it here so that you can use it in your game. So if you’re looking to present your party with a different kind of dryad, let them have a run-in with the warwood!

This beautiful woman ceases humming as she notices you, a frown crossing her face. Standing up, one dainty hand draws a stick from the bundle slung over her shoulder, holding it as though it were a weapon. The comical sight is interrupted as thick bark suddenly grows over her body like a second skin. The stick in her hand bulges into a stout club as she advances on you.

DRYAD, WARWOOD CR 7

XP 3,200

CN Medium fey

Init +3; Senses low-light vision; Perception +13


DEFENSE


AC 18, touch 13, flat-footed 15 (+3 Dex, +5 natural)

hp 90 (12d6+48)

Fort +7, Ref +11, Will +10

DR 5/cold iron


OFFENSE


Speed 30 ft.

Melee +1 greatclub +12/+7 (1d10+7)

Ranged +1 shuriken +10/+5 (1d2+5)

Spell-Like Abilities (CL 12th; concentration +16)

Constant – speak with plants

At will –wood shape (10 lbs. only)

3/day – entangle (DC 15), tree stride


STATISTICS


Str 19, Dex 17, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 14, Cha 18

Base Atk +6; CMB +10; CMD 29

Feats Dazzling Display, Defensive Combat Training, Deadly Aim, Skill Focus (Stealth), Toughness, Weapon Focus (greatclub)

Skills Acrobatics +14, Climb +15, Craft (sculpture) +12, Escape Artist +14, Handle Animal +12, Intimidate +14, Knowledge (nature) +12, Perception +13, Stealth +22, Survival +10; Racial Modifiers +6 Craft (wood)

Languages Common, Sylvan; speak with plants

SQ forest weaponry, timber armor, wild empathy, woodcraft


ECOLOGY


Environment temperate forests

Organization solitary, pair, or grove (3-8)

Treasure none


SPECIAL ABILITIES


Forest Weaponry (Su) As a swift action, a warwood dryad can turn any foliage in her grasp into a weapon. Branches and boughs become a +1 greatclub while leaves, flower petals, and other herbage becomes up to five +1 shuriken. These items revert to their natural state upon leaving the warwood dryad’s grasp (in the case of shuriken, this happens after they are used to attack).

Timber Armor (Su) A warwood dryad may cause a layer of form-fitting wood to grow over herself. This increases her natural armor bonus to +10, but reduces her speed to 20 ft. Removing the timber armor is a move action that causes it to recede.

Wild Empathy (Su) This works like the druid’s wild empathy class feature, except the warwood dryad has a +6 racial bonus on the check. Warwood dryads with druid or ranger levels add this racial modifier to their wild empathy checks.

Woodcraft (Ex) A warwood dryad has a +6 racial bonus to Craft checks involving wood, and is always treated as if she had masterwork artisan’s woodworking tools when making such checks.

HABITAT AND SOCIETY

Zealous defenders of the forests, warwood dryads are the fey answer to those who do not respect the natural world. Possessing the ability to turn innocuous branches and flowers into deadly weapons, they often leave the dead bodies of loggers at the edge of a forest, decorated with the bloody foliage used to kill them as a stern warning to other despoilers. Most communities that dwell near a forest inhabited by warwood dryads usually learn to leave it well enough alone.

Unlike normal dryads, a warwood dryad has no mystic connection to a tree; their connection to nature is internalized. Because of this they are able to roam freely and have much greater martial prowess than their tree-bound cousins, though their mystic abilities are stunted as a result. In contrast to more even-handed warriors of nature, warwood dryads do not respect those who only take from the land in moderation – to them, anyone who kills plants or animals for anything other than food is an enemy.

ECOLOGY

A warwood dryad acts as the protector of her environment, attempting to kill or drive off anything that doesn’t live in harmony with nature. Among those who revere nature, the warwood dryad is a steadfast ally, often serving a role similar to local law enforcement in humanoid settlements. Like their less-aggressive cousins, warwood dryads have a large sexual appetite, often pursuing relationships with satyrs, centaurs, and local druids. The results of these unions are always another warwood dryad.

TACTICS

Warwood dryads prefer to attack lone targets, usually when their prey is most vulnerable. They’ll activate their armor and create weapons before using tree stride to shadow a target. When they decide to strike, they’ll use their entangle spell-like ability before moving in to attack. If taken by surprise, a warwood dryad will always grab the nearest piece of flora and then activate her armor. Following that, she’ll create a weapon and counterattack as best she can. If in imminent danger of death, she’ll attempt to escape via tree stride.

 

Patronizing the Witch

April 9, 2012

It’s long been a staple that religious classes in Pathfinder, like in D&D before it, come with certain “strings” attached, insofar as role-playing is concerned. Unlike other characters, who don’t necessarily have any particular individual or organization that they need to have an affiliation with (other PCs notwithstanding), divine spellcasters are expected to have a relationship not only with their church, but also with their deity.

This can be somewhat tricky, since good role-playing will often necessitate knowing something about the church and the deity before the campaign even begins. Of course, that’s usually not too big a deal, since most published deities have at least some supporting material written, and even home-brew pantheons will have information supplied by the GM. To put it another way, these “strings” are expected and the requisite information is provided.

That’s a quid pro quo that goes entirely out the window where Pathfinder’s witch class is concerned.

Absentee Oversight

Whereas divine spellcasters have a god (or god-like figure of similar status), the witch has a patron. Clearly the patron isn’t meant to (necessarily) be a god, since otherwise the game wouldn’t bother differentiating the two. But what exactly is a witch’s patron then? Let’s examine what the Advanced Player’s Guide says on the subject:

This patron is a vague and mysterious force, granting the witch power for reasons that she might not entirely understand. While these forces need not be named, they typically hold influence over one of the following forces.

[…]

Its actual name is up to the GM and the witch to decide.

Oh that’s helpful.

While I can see the reasoning behind taking a hands-off stance on this particular subject (so as to better allow enterprising GMs to define the nature of the patrons on their own), this isn’t very helpful in terms of suggesting ideas or providing inspiration for those GMs who want some help.

As such, we’re going to go over several possibilities regarding possible witch patrons here, giving names to those “unnameable” entities that grant a witch her spells. But before we do, let’s try and get a better sense of how these patrons work, by looking at their most tangible impact on the witch.

Familiarization

The most direct impact that a patron has on a witch is felt via the witch’s familiar. Once again, let’s examine what the APG has on these creatures:

At 1st level, a witch forms a close bond with a familiar, a creature that teaches her magic and helps to guide her along her path. Familiars also aid a witch by granting her skill bonuses, additional spells, and help with some types of magic.

[…]

By forging strange bonds with unnameable beings, witches gain the service of a mystical advisor, a familiar to both serve her and reveal to her secrets unknown to most mortals. A familiar is an animal chosen by a witch to aid her in her spellcasting and grant her special powers.

Okay, so there is some expository material there. First, the actual familiar is chosen by the witch herself. This is interesting, as it’s the familiar that “teaches her magic,” “helps to guide her along her path,” and “reveal to her secrets unknown to most mortals.”

In the face of it, there’s something of a dichotomy here. The text makes it clear that the witch is the pupil, while the familiar is the teacher; at the same time, however, the fact that the witch chooses the familiar seems to indicate that it’s an ordinary animal until she selects it; since it teaches her magic, she’s obviously not imbuing it with power on her own. So what turns this ordinary animal that she chooses into her future mentor?

The best way to answer this question is, to my mind, by bringing the mysterious patron back into the equation. In this manner, while the witch may select the actual animal, it’s the patron that imbues the familiar with its intelligence, magical powers, and (most importantly) its ability to instruct the witch in spell preparation.

"Today's lesson will be about what a dipshit you are."

This, therefore, brings up an interesting question as to where the familiar’s real loyalties lie. After all, the witch may have invoked the patron to make the animal into a familiar, but the one who actually did so was the patron itself. Given that, it’s likely that the familiar’s lessons are in line with what the patron wants them to be – whether because the patron wrote the familiar’s personality type when it imbued it with intelligence, or because it can control the familiar by threatening to withdraw its powers from it.

This, by extension, makes the familiar the patron’s proxy to the witch – the familiar makes sure that she develops and grows the way the patron wants her to, otherwise the lessons, and the new spells to prepare, go away (of course, not all of the witch’s power has the familiar as a mystic middle man; their hex powers, for example, are gained directly from their patron).

This is a marked contrast to a wizard’s (or an arcane-blooded sorcerer’s) familiar, which they imbue with magic and intelligence themselves – the witch’s familiar wants her to grow, but only insofar as it’s in line with her patron’s agenda.

Patronage Package

The other direct hand that patron’s take in regards to a witch’s development is in their “patron spells.” Let’s look at these a little closer.

The patron spells in the APG are somewhat akin to clerical domains in that they’re a set of spells grouped by a common theme, which the witch selects to help customize her spells prepared. On the surface, this isn’t too big a deal, but there’s more here than is immediately apparent.

The list of patron spell packages is actually the closest thing we have to an actual list of patrons. The same way a god’s clerical domains reflect their portfolio, these patron spell lists serve to define their patrons.

I'm not sure I want to know who her patron is.

The problem is that these lists are, unto themselves, much too prosaic. Simply having your patron be “wisdom” isn’t very helpful at all. Imagine if your deity had no information listed except their domains…it’s kind of like that in terms of fleshing out your magical sponsor. In fact, patrons are even worse since there aren’t even any groups of patron spell packages to select from; just a big list that the witch picks one from.

There’s also some ambiguity as to who actually selects the patron spell package, from an in-game standpoint. Is the witch actually selecting her patron spells? Or does her patron choose which of these spells she actively receives? I’d recommend the latter interpretation, as it makes more sense in terms of the patron being the one to imbue the witch with her powers (particularly her spells, which are sent through the familiar). The witch’s player picking the patron spells is a metagame decision, much like a sorcerer picking their bloodline, that isn’t reflected as an in-character conscious choice.

Patron Possibilities

With all of that said, this brings us back around to our original question: who are the witch patrons? Or at least, what are some good choices for witch patrons? Let’s discuss some of the criteria that a patron should have.

One of the most important standards for witch patrons is that they be unique entities. This is key for pretty much the same reason that creatures that grant divine spells need to be unique entities (“unique” here doesn’t mean that they need to be singular in nature, but rather that they can’t be some sort of generic creature) – because otherwise there’d be problems with them popping up everywhere (e.g. if every creature with 20 HD or more can grant spells, then every creature with Hit Dice that high would be doing so…including 20th-level PCs!). There is no good “one size fits all” approach for what sorts of creatures can grant spells.

Likewise, all witch patrons should be beings of considerable power. While there are some possible exceptions (e.g. Spirits), most beings need to have power themselves before they can grant it to others. Even if that power is limited somehow, it still needs to be present so that it can be transferred to the witch and her familiar.

Finally, consider giving each of the following patrons certain “groups” of patron spell themes, much in the same way that deities have several domains. This helps to further flesh out the various patrons as having a distinct set of goals and agenda all their own.

Given that, the following make good options for witch patrons:

Baba Yaga: Perhaps the original witch (in theme, if not class), Baba Yaga makes an excellent witch patron. Her strong slant towards arcane spellcasting, while being definitively not a god herself, makes her a good choice for something that can send arcane powers but not divine ones. She’s also inscrutable enough to make her agenda mysterious, giving the GM a lot of leeway in what exactly she wants her witch to accomplish. Patron spells: Deception, Shadow, Trickery, Wisdom.

The Gods: As the gods (and similar powers, such as archdevils and demon lords) grant divine spells to their worshippers directly, why couldn’t they also grant arcane spells as well? Of course, this requires some in-game explanation for why they only do so through a familiar, and why they don’t grant other sorts of arcane spellcasters their spells. Perhaps they can only do so because of the particular nature of arcane magic, or perhaps gods who do this are skirting some divine law, and so need to hide their activities and identity by remaining more aloof than they would with their divine servants. Patron spells: varies by god.

The Great Dragons: Fafnheir. Jormugandr. Nidhogg. These, and others like them, are dragons so mighty that they constitute major threats to the entire world, or even to the gods, all without being gods themselves. Witches who serve these beings will likely find themselves advancing agendas to bring about the end of the world or some similar apocalypse, during which their master can wreak unimaginable havoc. Patron spells: varies by dragon (e.g. Nidhogg: Endurance, Plague, Shadow, Strength).

Monsters of Legend: Similar to the Great Dragons, some monsters have a singular exemplar – perhaps their progenitor – that is far beyond their lesser brethren. The Rainbow Serpent, for example, might be the first couatl, now working to subtly encourage new generations of witches to take up the fight against evil and protect the good people of the world. The plots of such monsters of legend will be as diverse as these creatures themselves are. Patron spells: varies by creature (e.g. The Rainbow Serpent: Agility, Animals, Transformation, Wisdom).

Spirits: Not all witch patrons need to be singular entities. On their own, the spirits are weak, but many of them together can grant great powers. Perhaps one of them (or all of them) possess the familiar, allowing for a witch patron who’s always present! In this way, for example, a witch’s ancestors might empower her to defend their tribe from threats, or the Great Mountain might make its will known. Spirits offer a great deal of variety in what kind of patrons they can be. Patron spells: varies by spirits (e.g. Ancestral Spirits: Animals, Elements, Endurance, Strength).

The Titans: From the Greeks to the Scarred Lands to the original hekatonkheires still trapped between the planes, many pantheons have had to battle these ancient super-giants in order to secure their current supremacy; but in all cases, the titans still exist, locked away in the far corners of the universe, waiting for a time when they can return to reclaim all of Creation for their own. Those witches who dedicate themselves to them will find themselves seeking the keys to unlock their masters’ ancient prisons. Patron spells: varies by titan (e.g. Oceanus: Deception, Endurance, Trickery, Water).

Of course, these are just some possible witch patrons; there are myriad other possibilities for what’s granting a witch’s spells. Perhaps your witch’s patron is a sentient artifact. Or it might be the sentient manifestation of an abstract force or concept (e.g. Winter). Or it might be something else altogether.

This is my patron. His granted power is to help me get through the day.

Whatever the nature of your witch’s patron though, having it more clearly defined lets you role-play one of your witch’s most important aspects better. Witch patrons should be about patronage, not patronizing.