Friday, April 1, 2016

Dungeons & Diablery Part 2: A Summon By Any Other Name Would Not Be As Sweet

Previously, I mentioned the Diabolist prestige class in Pathfinder, and discussed how it wasn't much of a penalty to disallow resurrection, and it also allowed you to build a shit-kicking super imp companion.

At any rate, that leaves us with the rest of its class features.

Skipping around, one of its abilities is the ability to turn spells that deal energy damage (such as fire, cold, lightning, sonic, or acid) into spells that deal hellfire damage. This is interesting because under no circumstances does the game ever tell you what hellfire damage actually is. There are several possible definitions. The hellfire ray spell does it in the form of half the damage being fire damage while the other half is unholy damage that bypasses fire resistance and immunity. The infernal bloodline for sorcerers has it just as pure fire damage with Good creatures being shaken by the ability. There's also the hellfire hazard which functions like hellfire ray in that half the damage is fire and half the damage is unholy, except that unholy damage does no damage to evil creatures or creatures protected from evil, and double damage to good creatures. Aside from the sorcerer bloodline, all of these come from the same book.

Augment Summoning is a fun feat for people who like to summon things, and is probably something someone taking this class would want anyways. It makes your summons stronger and tougher It's also the prerequisite for another feat that allows you to better zerg your opponents.

You also gain the spell-like abilities to cast the aforementioned hellfire ray spell. In addition to doing questionable forms of damage, it has a "save or be damned" for anyone who gets killed by it, possibly making them harder to resurrect. Since the caster level check is based on the target's hit dice, it's oddly harder to resurrect the the target than the diabolist who cast the spell, and a late-game target with dozens of hit dice is almost impossible to bring back, except if restored by an evil caster. Due to the way the spell is phrased, there is no indication that being killed by the spell, failing your will save and being damned is required for the follow-up sentence of being difficult to return from the dead, and there is also no duration on the damnation either (it doesn't seem to wear off once you've been successfully raised). So you could scratch someone with the spell once and then they'd forever be harder to revive by non-evil casters. Fuck heroic characters, I guess.

You also gain the ability to make two short-range or one long-range teleport a day. It's a thing, I suppose.

But while the imp companion, Augment Summoning and maybe the spell-like abilities are generically useful, the other features of the prestige class have been clearly designed with certain characters in mind.

To enter the class requires that a character successfully calls a devil and gets it to serve for a day. There are a few ways of doing this. One is by using the planar ally series of spells, employed by clerics, oracles and in some cases even a paladin (well, not for the summoning of devils, but you get the idea). As mentioned in the paladin write-up, the way planar ally works is that a divine caster phones home and the powers that be send a similarly-aligned outsider, who the divine caster then pays a certain amount based on the strength of the outsider and how long the outsider is to stick around. The fact that it's a divine spell and that such spells take on alignment aspects of the creature called means that divine casters can't summon things whose alignments are opposed to their deity/cause.

Wizards don't play like that.

Arcane casters like wizards, sorcerers, and summoners rely on planar binding for all their extraplanar calls. For planar binding, you start by creating a magic circle that opposes the alignment of the thing you're trying to call (or rather, is not aligned with the creature you're trying to call. True Neutral creatures are blocked by every form of magic circle). Then you can cast a planar binding spell and whistle up a creature. If it fails its will save, it shows up in your circle.

Of course, you'd only do that if you weren't very good at being a wizard. Once called via planar binding, the outsider is free to test the circle with its spell resistance, teleport out or just shoot you with its ranged attacks/spells. And while the outsider can't directly attack the circle, it can convince others to mess with the lay-out and set it free. You probably won't hold your new friend for very long.

Now, if you want to do this right, you first augment your magic circle with a diagram with a bunch of fun little symbols and sigils. This takes 10 minutes and requires a DC 20 Spellcraft check, and since you can take 10 for another 10 minutes of time, you should be able to hit this easily by the time you reach a level where you can cast planar binding in any form, though if you're recklessly casting from an earlier level with scrolls or something, you can still take 20, spending 200 minutes to make sure you get the circle right. This diagram prevents the creature from breaking out using its spell resistance, and prohibits its ranged attacks and spells from crossing the diagram. You can also cast dimensional anchor on the diagram before you start the binding spell to prevent the creature from using planar travel abilities for several days while it's held in the circle.

The only way for the outsider to get out now is for someone else to disturb the (very delicate) circle, or for it to make a Charisma check, against a DC equal to 15 + your caster level + your Charisma modifier, and the DC is increased by a further 5 for the diagram, so 20 + caster level + your Charisma modifier. At the earliest you can normally cast lesser planar binding as a wizard, that's 29 + your Charisma modifier, and it only goes up. Since a Charisma check is a raw 1d20 + outsider's Charisma modifier, even if the outsider rolls a natural 20, it still has to have a Charisma modifier greater than yours + your level. This means it's almost impossible for the outsider to get out under its own power once it has failed its will save and been bound.

So now that you've got an outsider, what do you with it? With planar ally, you pay a fair wage and then you're done with, but with planar binding you... negotiate. You do this by making an opposed Charisma check, with a bonus of up to +6 assigned to based on the task and reward. Note that there is nothing preventing you from offering a terrible bargain like "serve me or die", it's just that you won't get any additional bonus on the check (but also no penalty, unless the outsider gets a +6 bonus to its check). Though it does say that "impossible demands or unreasonable commands are never agreed to" but doesn't really define what "unreasonable" means. If you succeed, you just got a new employee. Fail and nothing happens, and you can make a check again the next day with either a different offer or the exact same offer, and can keep trying for up to a day per caster level. The only thing you have to worry about is rolling a natural 1, which lets the outsider break free. In order to increase your odds, you can do things like offering up sacrifices that intrigue the outsider... or you can just wear a nice hat.

(One of the more interesting things about Pathfinder is that you have a headband slot which is separate from your head slot, and is the slot casters use for items that boost their mental stats and thus their casting abilities. A headband of superior intellect takes up the headband slot for a wizard, while a circlet of persuasion is described as a headband but takes up the head slot. Fighters and other physical-focus characters have no such luck, since their belts of physical stat boosting take up the same belt slot as other items. There is no "waist" slot.)

Many of the diabolist's other class features revolve around boosting the character's bonus to Charisma checks against devils, meaning that even a wizard with poor Charisma can still do well enough, while a Charisma-based arcane caster like the sorcerer or summoner can pretty much hold devils over the fire every time they want to strike up a deal, culminating in the PrC's capstone ability to add half your Bluff, Diplomacy or Intimidate modifier to Charisma-checks to bargain with devils you know, and since those skill checks are also Charisma based, you're making a check of something like 1d20 + your Charisma modifier + 6 + (your level + your charisma modifier + feat + item bonuses)/2 + misc bonuses against 1d20 + devil's charisma modifier + misc bonuses, making it incredibly likely that you'll be able to cow even the strongest pit fiend.

Of course, this class is also open to anyone who can cast planar ally, which doesn't make any Charisma checks whatsoever, making the capstone pretty much useless. The only real benefit is the Infernal Bargain ability at level 2, which lets you make an opposed Charisma check to halve the price, which is boosted by your Infernal Charisma bonus to Charisma checks against devils, but might not work with the capstone ability.

Now, that's not to say that divine casters can't cast planar binding. The Outer Rifts oracle adds the spells to the oracle's spell list, and a cleric with the devil domain can use planar binding to call devils only. It would be a good fit if only it worked. Planar binding requires the caster to trap the subject with an appropriate magic circle, so to bind an evil outsider like a devil would require the cleric to use a magic circle against evil. Unfortunately, since the spell protects against evil creatures, that makes it a Good spell, and clerics can't cast spells with alignment descriptors opposed to their deities. A cleric of Asmodeus could cast magic circle against good (an evil spell) or magic circle against chaos (a lawful spell), but not one of the other two. Even if the "devils only" restriction was removed, and your character thought it would be delightful to use planar binding to shackle an angel into service of Asmodeus, you couldn't do it, because casting planar binding to summon a creature with an alignment subtype gives the spell that alignment descriptor. Binding an angel makes it a good spell, so a cleric of Asmodeus couldn't cast it. The only thing a cleric could successfully bind would be true neutral outsiders, and the spell doesn't allow for that. It's completely worthless (barring some sort of cleric who doesn't have a deity).

Oracles don't have the same restriction on aligned spells, unlike clerics and inquisitors (and paladins, so that aforementioned angel summoner could hypothetically call up some devils to go evil-hunting, though with the paladin's code of conduct that would be a serious can of worms).

Wizards still don't give a fuck about such petty things like morality, and are free to learn and cast magic circles and conjuration spells no matter the alignment. The alignment restriction on clerics means that they can only summon things that are ideologically aligned with their deities. Since a wizard gives no fucks whatsoever, there is nothing stopping a Lawful Evil wizard from using summon monster IX to summoning an angel or archon and then pointing it at an orphanage or nunnery and telling it to go wild. So an evil cleric can only summon fiends, but an evil wizard can make angels eat babies.

The one other thing the diabolist gets is a bonus to researching the True Names of devils. Now, True Names are a feature of most outsiders, and knowledge of them makes it easier for you to call on an outsider, giving it a -5 penalty to its will save to resist being called, and a -5 penalty on checks to get out of the circle if its true name has been inscribed there. You can discover an outsider's true name with a month-long research session in a library or a quest to old ruins and the like, followed by making a Knowledge (the planes) check based on the outsider's number of hit dice.

Or you can just be a wizard. Wizards can take the True Name feat, which allows them to instantly know the name of one outsider, letting them call it up once per day as if using planar binding, only they get to make it work for free. You can also be a dick and mispronounce the name to cause the creature real physical pain. Every time you take the feat, you learn a new true name. The feat exists at a weird intersection between mechanics and plot, since it states that outsider works for you out of fear that its true name would be revealed, and may conspire to make you forget the true name or swear to never use it again. So if one of those situations happens or if the outsider dies, what becomes of your feat? What happens if you share the true name? What happens if you learn a different true name normally? What happens if you lose your memory but you wrote it down somewhere else?

So let's learn the shit out of some true names.

Now, you might think that a diabolist would be good at learning true names, but if you really want to do some heavy learning, you're going to want to ace some Knowledge (the planes) checks, and for that you'll need a bard. A bard has two things of interest- Bardic Knowledge, which lets you add half your bard level to knowledge checks, and Lore Master, which lets you take 10 or even 20 on knowledge checks as a standard action. Now, you could then pump your Intelligence score to make your Knowledge checks better, but you can do better than that by taking a level of oracle and going for the lore mysteries, of which the Lore Keeper ability lets you use your Charisma modifier instead of your Intelligence modifier for knowledge checks, since "you learn most of your information through tales, songs, and poems" (with some weird implications since you're researching true names). Since you're Charisma-based, feel free to be a gnome, and take the Academic gnome trait to get +2 racial bonus to a Knowledge check of your choice, and maybe take a trait and a few feats to boost your knowledge (the planes) skill further.

Now, how high can you stack your Charisma? Well, you can point buy your way to an 18, then add +2 from being a gnome, +5 from boosting your Charisma over 20 levels, and a +6 enhancement bonus from an item, and +1 to +3 from being middle age through venerable. If you want to blow the bank, you can also add a +5 inherent bonus from wishes or similar features, and a +2 profane bonus from contracting with the succubus I mentioned back in the antipaladin write-up. So 32 through 41, or a +11 to +15 bonus. Let's stick with the lowball estimate for the moment.

Next, you stick a mask over your face, rendering you blind, but granting you a +10 competence bonus to knowledge checks. Then you cast one of your bard or oracle spells for an insight bonus to the knowledge check. Then pick up a luck bonus from a stone.

1d20 + 20 (ranks) + 3 (class skill) + 11 (Charisma) + 9 (bardic knowledge) + 10 (mask) + 8 (spell insight) + 12 (feats) + 2 (trait) + 2 (racial) + 1 (luck) =1d20+78

Take 10 for a check result of 88. This is a low estimate.

Now, the DC is 10 + target's hit dice, with an optional bonus to the DC of up to +10 for things that are especially powerful and well-hidden. Assuming the + 10 is always in play, the bard can learn the True Name of any outsider with 68 hit dice. In the Pathfinder game, the only listed outsiders have 40 hit dice or fewer, so let's get theoretical.

The SRD that Pathfinder is based on also includes Deities & Demigods, which lists the rules for statting up your favorite deities. Most of them have 20 hit dice of outsider plus some amount of class levels. Greater deities like Zeus tend to have 20 hit dice, then 50 or so levels for a total of 70, putting them just out of our reach. Now, you could boost the bard's Charisma modifier through inherent bonuses, age bonuses, or profane bonuses from a succubus, or you could try something else.

Recall Eldritch Heritage, which allows a character with the Charisma to spare to pick up sorcerer bloodline abilities. The Arcane Bloodline gives the bard an arcane bond like a wizard, which you can use to pick up a familiar. Familiars have all the skill ranks that their masters have, which means they can use the Aid Another action to make a DC 10 check and add +2 to any of your skill rolls. Multiclassing into Infernal Binder gives a familiar and also +3 to Knowledge (the planes), though the familiar won't improve on its own. (Also, you can have a giant isopod as a familiar.  This isn't really relevant, I just wanted you to know about that).

With the aid of a pet raven, you now know the True Name of Odin.

There is nothing in the world that can hide its true name from you, and nothing that says you have to hide the true name from the world. Share it with your friends, write it on bathroom walls, do whatever you want with it and piss off dangerous beings in the process. Admittedly, greater planar binding caps out at 18 hit dice, so there's not a whole lot of direct mechanical use to knowing the true name of a deity or archfiend.

Of course, there's the problem of researching true names requiring you to spend your time inside of a library or on a quest for a month, which sort of cuts into your adventure time. But why let that slow you down? The text for the Mask of a Thousand Tomes implies that it's got a library of a thousand tomes stored in it, and even if your DM won't let that fly, there's nothing that says that your research has to be conducted in a big library, or even a valid one, so you can carry around a bag of holding full of your library of Elminister fanfiction and research true names in there. With the right items, you won't have to eat or drink, age at all, sleep much or even breathe, and you can get some for your little familiar buddy as well. Since you're a bard and not really a combatant, you can hang out in the bag of holding all day, just studying away. If your party needs you, they can open the bag and you can sing some songs or maybe even stick your head out for a few seconds to cast a spell before going back to your research.

If your party doesn't need you, then you've got a scenario where once a month they gather around a mysterious bag, which parts open to reveal the head of a middle-aged gnome with a mask of paper and several shiny rocks floating in orbit. A raven caws, and the gnome speaks but a single name of terrible power, before vanishing back into the bag for another month.

And then the wizard takes the name and uses it to enslave the powers of creation. Because wizards don't give a fuck.

(Technically, you could just send the raven up to deliver your message for you and basically never see the outside again).

The diabolist doesn't really have a unique trick outside of big impin', since the rest of its mechanics can be used with a wider variety of creatures than just devils, and often can be used better by a character build dedicated to it. But the general mechanics are still potent enough to prove one thing: Wizards are fucking assholes.

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