Saturday, May 14, 2016

Putting The Class Back In Class Warfare

A while back I did a write-up on how to make money in a Pathfinder game and in the time since there have been several books released, some of which have even tipped the scales.

Ultimate Intrigue was released in the past month and introduced a new class: the Vigilante.

Wealthy Scion By Day

Costumed Crime-Fighter By Night

The Vigilante is probably the single most mechanically fiddly class Paizo has produced since every level involves you picking from a list of abilities, be they social talents at odd levels that boost your social and support abilities in your civilian identity, or vigilante talents at even levels that boost your ability to fight crime in your vigilante identity. Now, as any comic book will tell you, living a double life is no easy thing, especially if your two lives give you twice as many responsibilities. But a vigilante can counter some of that burden and learn how to hustle with the Double Time social talent, allowing you to work faster and get shit done so you have more time to spend on your alternate lifestyle. With just the Double Time talent you can make Craft or Profession checks with only 6 hours of work per day instead of 8, and if you also invested in the Social Grace talent to actually be good at a particular Craft or Profession then you can do a day's work in only 4 hours... even if your profession happens to be soldier, shepherd, librarian or midwife. Surely those sheep can watch themselves for a few hours?

If you happen to have both Social Grace and Double Time as social talents, not only is every day a half day but it also qualifies you for the In Vogue social talent. So, what does it do? Well, Craft checks using your Social Grace talent make things that sell for 1/3 more than normal thanks to your fame, while Profession checks using your Social Grace talent double the amount earned, so you work half as often and make twice as much as anyone else in your line of work.

But you know, we can do better. Pathfinder Unchained did a revamp of the rogue and as part of that revamp did an alternate skill system called "Skill Unlocks" where having 5/10/15/20 ranks of a chosen skill unlocks special additional abilities such as letting you boost your diplomatic abilities so you can make friends for longer in a shorter amount of time. While a vigilante is not an unchained rogue, it can take the Signature Skill feat to gain the skill unlocks for one chosen skill. For Profession, those skill unlocks include earning your check result in gp when you make a Profession check instead of half of that once you have 5 ranks, doubling the amount of money you can make. Once you have 15 ranks you can make a Profession check to earn your money once per day instead of once per week. Put them all together and you'll make more money in four hours than most people make in four weeks. Who needs adventuring? (Answer: You do, because you're probably not hitting level 15 just by delivering babies).

(If we really wanted to be an unstoppable master of a chosen profession then there's also the Phantom Thief archetype on an unchained rogue, allowing us to have all the skill unlocks of an unchained rogue, add half our level to those unlocks so we unlock things faster and can qualify for 15 rank unlocks at level 10, add half our level to our skill checks so we can out-perform others and also lets you take vigilante social talents instead of rogue talents... were it not for the fact that the last bit prohibits you from taking "social grace and vigilante social talents that would require her to be a craftsman or professional" because gods forbid the social elite work a day in their lives.)

So what's a 15th level vigilante going to do with the ability to 60+ gold per day? Spend it all on an extravagent lifestyle? Well... not necessarily. There's a chain of social talents called Renown, Great Renown and Incredible Renown that lets your vigilante make a name for themself in a particular community, starting with a village-sized community of 200 individuals with the Renown talent and scaling up to a metropolis-sized community of around 25,000 individuals with Incredible Renown. With the Celebrity Perks social talent you can take advantage of your fame in your community and get free food and lodging, avoid having to pay taxes or bribes, and spend 1d10 minutes hobnobbing with fans to get free gifts of non-magical items (though if you sell any of them then you permanently lose this talent even though I'm not really sure how the hell they'd find out if you sold it on the other side of the world vs. lost it by giving it to a beggar or dropping it in a lake. Fans are scary). With only basic renown you can avoid paying for anything worth 1gp or less, while incredible renown lets you get gifts of up to 25 gp, food and lodging of up to 100 gp per meal/night and avoid taxes and bribes of up to 100 gp. Money looks after its own.

So if you find yourself in the professional world faced with someone who barely puts in any apparent effort, earns an absurd amount of money and yet sustains a lavish lifestyle solely by mooching off of everyone in their social circle then don't worry! It's not the result of a grossly unbalanced system that absurdly favors those born into a life of privilege... it's just that they're secretly Batman.

Ok, to be fair there are other explanations. The book also introduces several different vigilante archetypes which alter and/or replace the vigilante's class features with other abilities. One of them is the Magical Child.

With flashy transformations and lots of spells the magical child fights alongside a magical spirit guide who provides the child with guiding wisdom and merchandising opportunities and grows with the magical child's power, eventually unlocking mid-season upgrades alternate forms of ever-increasing ability. It's cute, colorful, whimsical... and totally capable of beating someone's ass.

See, magical spirit guides use the rules for familiars, which means it also qualifies for familiar archetypes. One of those is the mauler archetype, which sacrifices things such as language, intelligence and spellcasting support in order to get ripped and bathe in the blood of your enemies. Not only does it get a bonus to strength that scales up by 1 point per 2 levels but at level 3 it gains a battle form that allows it to become the size of a human with the increase in strength that comes from going from a tiny creature to a significantly less tiny one and a +2 to strength on top of that. Since the Magical Child's companion gets upgraded forms off of the improved familiar list it's entirely possible to get forms that have a sizeable statistical advantage over your average familiar such as a tidepool dragon and can have a strength score of 20 in battle form when you get it at level 7.

If you're a Small creature like a gnome, halfling or a literal child then a medium-sized mauler familiar is big enough that you can ride it into battle if angry magical cats sound like your idea of transportation, and with a 20+ in strength a tidepool dragon can not only out-lift a trained pony but it can also do a little thing called "fly" (which it will probably have to do, since its base land speed is 10 ft per move action and it doesn't get any better when it gets bigger, leaving flying and swimming as its preferred modes of movement). In battle your familiar borrows your base attack bonus so it can hit as well as you can (or better if it's in warform and stronger than you are), so it can deliver quite a beating. Unfortunately, it only has half of your HP count so it can't take nearly as much abuse, but it does have damage reduction that reduces damage from nonmagical weapons by an amount equal to your vigilante level, so you can laugh as it murders its way through goblins (and then cry when everything past mid-level bypasses it).

The cabalist and warlock archetypes for the vigilante also have options that grant them familiars, and while they don't get new forms like Magical Child's they do share one feature- while not in vigilante form your familiar has a secret identity of its own as a seemingly normal animal, though more outlandish familiars might still need some other form of hiding. If you and your cat are both juggling your double lives, then why not make the most out of it with the decoy familiar archetype? As you level it gains the ability to lie better, speak any language you speak, mimic your voice exactly and even transform into an identical copy of you at-will. Whether it takes your place while you get dangerous or takes your kids out while you get smashed, your familiar has you covered (well, for a minute per level followed by an equal amount of time in its normal form before it can change back).

If you want a vigilante who can really transform, then there's nothing quite like the Brute archetype. The brute's vigilante form involves physically transforming into a larger form (and if you're a halfling you can tower over your fellow halflings now that you're the size of a regular human) and limits you from using skills based on Dexterity, Intelligence or Charisma and abilities that require patience or concentration, heavily based on the barbarian's rage except worse because the barbarian's rage doesn't apply an additional -2 penalty to Dexterity, Intelligence and Charisma ability checks and ability-based skill checks that you already can't use. So your alter-ego is a large, unthinking brute with serious anger issues... let's not dance around this much longer, this is the archetype for people who want to play as the Hulk.

That's totally understandable, since the Hulk is based on some primal ideas in the human condition and has featured in some great stories (and also books where he yells a lot and punches things). There have been some great stories where Hulk has battled with his anger and reached the point where his tremendous anger has so consumed him that he's lost the ability to tell friend from foe, threatening his allies while they struggle to calm him down by reminding him of their shared human connection and all they stand and fight for... wouldn't it be fantastic if this happened in literally every single fight?

See, while in vigilante form the brute "can't always tell friend from foe" and while it will attack enemies above all else, once there are no enemies around (due to them being dead, fled or hidden, for example) then the brute must make a Will save each round or continue fighting against allies and bystanders. The brute can make a new save each round and allies can make aid another checks using skills like Diplomacy to boost the brute's will save and help the brute calm down, but depending on how the DM rules it may require the allies to be within the BRUTE SMASH radius.

But hey, you made the save and the brute calms down... and turns back into the social identity slowly over the next minute (or faster if the vigilante invested in the right social talents). Ok, that's fine, we can handle going around in Bruce Banner mode and helping the party... science man, science man, does whatever a scientist can. Of course, once we get into mortal peril (combat starts, for example, or we end up in a trap or hazard) then we have to make that same Will save or we Hulk out again and may just make things worse if there are no enemies to smash. If there are enemies around then they get to deal with the fact that hulking out in the middle of combat takes an entire round, leaves the brute an easy mark for a beating and (as the game so helpfully reminds us) probably lets them learn both the social and vigilante identities of the brute so it rapidly becomes one of those "leave no witnesses" sort of days.

Ok, that kind of sucks, but surely the Will Save DC is static or even decreasing with level, creating a natural character arc out of the mechanic as your brute slowly learns to deal with the horrible urges of the transformation, right? No, of course not- the DC starts at 20 at level 1 and scales up by half your level, hitting DC 30 at level 20. The vigilante has a Good Will save, which scales at 2 + 1/2 your vigilante level, but the brute archetype dumps that in favor of a Poor Will save, which scales at 0 + 1/3 your vigilante level, so you're actually losing ground as you level and need to rely on magic items, feats, spells and class abilities (from classes that certainly aren't yours) if you even hope to maintain control of your character.

Alright, alright, we can handle this. We just have to hulk out before we get into trouble. Normally transitioning into vigilante form takes 1 minute, so either we have to invest in social talents that reduce the transformation time or we need to get used to transforming well in advance of any danger. It may block us from using 3/4s of our skill set but so be it. Now, a brute can only remain in vigilante identity for up to 2 hours at a time and up to 6 hours total in a 24-hour period, so wandering around in vigilante form when you don't need it is just going to burn up the meter. But in the era of the 15-minute adventure day we probably have enough time in reserve that we can afford to wander around and contribute as much to the group out-of-combat as the party fighter.

One minor complication is that when exiting vigilante form the brute is fatigued for a time equal to the amount of time spent in vigilante form. This means that when you roll your DC 20 + 1/2 level Will save after running out of enemies a failed save means it's murder time while a successful save means that it's now nap time, because going into vigilante while fatigued means you're not only fatigued and doing worse while fighting but you're going to be an exhausted wreck when you come out of it at the end of a fight. If you're somehow hard pressed enough to go into vigilante form while exhausted then you can only maintain vigilante form for a number of rounds equal to half your level (so a minute tops at level 20) and fall unconscious immediately afterwards and can't enter vigilante form for another hour.

There are a bunch of ways to remove fatigue from a target, such as the restoration line of spells or a paladin's mercy ability. Unfortunately, none of them work, because the brute "cannot ignore or remove this fatigue by any means except by waiting the appropriate amount of time." This can severely slow down your party's progression if you need downtime after every fight, or more if you also spent a few rounds beating on your party members. Should we decided to get clever and build a character who is entirely immune to fatigue it will completely backfire on us since an immunity to fatigue or exhaustion prevents the vigilante from transforming into the brute vigilante form at all, blocking it just as it blocks fatigue or exhaustion effects. So about the best way to cure the Hulk is to turn Bruce Banner into a vampire. Of course, if we're being pedantic it only blocks the transformation into vigilante form, so you could Hulk out and then get an item or spell effect that blocks fatigue right before you change back into your social identity (assuming your angry unthinking mind can go through with this plan or your allies can get close enough to do it without you smashing them). But while that trick is valid in the letter of the rules, it's pretty clearly against the spirit of the rules- all these restrictions and limitations are clearly there for a reason, and I'm sure that the reason is "to balance out all the cool Hulk things you'll be able to do in your vigilante form."

So, what sort of things can the brute do? Everyone knows that the Hulk is strong (strongest there is!), tough, durable and resilient, capable of facing almost any physical threat so long as he's angry enough.

The brute vigilante does approximately none of these things.

It provides no boost to strength, not even the strength boost that normally comes from changing size that the magical child's familiar benefits from. It provides no boost to Constitution either, no bonus hit points, temporary hit points, fast healing, regeneration, or damage reduction to make you even the slightest bit better at taking damage. One thing they did copy was the fact that when you change in size you damage whatever nonmagical clothing and armor you're currently wearing, and such items lose a quarter of their HP. Your magical pants will change size with you, but magical armor and weaponry won't scale up with you unless you take the Sizing Equipment brute vigilante talent, and even that one will give you a -1 penalty to AC and attack rolls while using the equipment until you hit level 6 because why should spending an ability slot grant you a basic ability without complications? For the first five levels you run the risk of fighting naked when you enter vigilante form... actually, it's worse since the form already gives you a penalty to AC for increasing in size (since you're now a larger target) and a further -2 penalty to AC on top of that to go with the reckless raging condition that is the brute's vigilante form. Combine that with the base HP count of a rogue and you have a character who basically cannot take a hit or operate long on the front lines of battle.

Ok, maybe you can't out-endure the Hulk, but who can? You can at least be a glass cannon and deliver devastation on the battlefield, smashing all who'd oppose you, right? The brute vigilante gains the full base attack bonus of a warrior class while in vigilante form, making your attacks as accurate as any... but the avenger vigilante specialization gains a full base attack bonus in both forms, meaning that Bruce Wayne and Don Diego can still put up a fight in their civilian identities if needed, and unlike the brute vigilante an avenger vigilante can qualify for any high-level feats that require a high base attack bonus. But hey, the brute also gets a bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls that scales up to an entire +3 to both at level 19! A whole +3!

If your munchkin-like lust for power cannot be satisfied with your +3 then you can spend a vigilante talent on the Heavy Punches brute vigilante ability that lets you throw punches that do damage like a monk of your level and (not insignificant size), and even stacks with any other class like monk or brawler. Unfortunately, unlike a monk or brawler you don't get any of the other bonuses that let you treat your unarmed strike as though it had other qualities for bypassing the ever-present damage reduction of higher-level play, not even the ability to treat your unarmed attacks as adamantine weapons so you could properly smash robots and tear through stone or steel like it was tissue paper. But hey, you're still a vigilante, so you can take the Lethal Grace vigilante talent, which grants you the benefits of Weapon Finesse to apply your Dexterity bonus to attack rolls instead of your Strength bonus with certain weapons (such as unarmed attacks) and lets you add half your level to damage rolls with a finessable provided you're adding your strength bonus to damage rolls. With a Dexterity-based build you can somewhat compensate for your terrible AC and have a Hulk who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee!

Of the remaining brute vigilante talents, Awesome Blow lets you knock people away provided they're smaller than you and you succeed at a check, and at level 16 use this and any other combat maneuver regardless of how much bigger an opponent is, though as a standard action it prevents you from making the most of a full-attack (your major source of damage at high levels) and only knocks people up to 10 feet away. Meanwhile, Total Destruction lets you throw rocks at people, throw people at people (provided they're two size categories smaller, so halflings in the case of a regular medium humanoid-based brute), and eventually at level 16 throw a really big rock at people that does 1d6/level damage in an area unless the targets succeed at a Reflex save, making it sort of a low-tech fireball equivalent provided you have enough junk to throw. Sadly it has a fixed range and can't benefit from damage boosts like critical hits, so no using it to solve interplanetary crises.

Lastly there's the Scale Surroundings brute vigilante talent, which lets you climb things in your brute vigilante form like some sort of... humanoid arachnid (not to be confused with the stock vigilante talent Rooftop Infiltrator which also gives a climb speed that's initially slower than Scale Surroundings but can benefit from certain speed boosts and can be used in your social form). Sadly there is not a single boost to your jumping capabilities in sight. If you really want to become unstoppable, the Mad Rush vigilante talent lets you take a penalty to your AC to make a full attack on a charge, and the Nothing Can Stop Me Now lets you smash through any obstacle that gets in your way provided you can destroy it with a single attack... provided you're an avenger vigilante, which is mutually exclusive with the brute vigilante archetype.

Now, if you wanted to play a character based on the Hulk your more munchkin-y friends might suggest a brawler for smashing foes or even the "rage literally grants supernatural power and transformations" ability of the bloodrager, but you know better than all of them when you pick the brute vigilante. Trying to figure out which half of your class you will need to access next, letting your situation determine when the party needs to advance or rest, gambling everything on the fate of a die and knowing that whenever there's trouble everyone will stop and wonder... what will you do next? And when you fail those Will saves and charge the party, you laugh secure in the knowledge that given all of your offensive and defensive abilities the party will have no trouble putting you down before you hurt anyone.

No other class can do that for you.

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