The Ogre of Battle

Spurred on by a discussion where someone suggested monster tactics as a product line, I took a quick pass at looking at some tactics for iconic monsters, to see if I think they can be useful and generic enough to make a good product. I’m not convinced wither way yet, but sharing my first draft seemed a great way to test the waters. Thus, here I present my ideas for ogre tactics. As the first giants PCs are likely to run into, ogres make a good stand-in for all Large humanoids, though obviously things like spell-like abilities and rock-throwing may give true giants better options. (Or you could use this with ogres that have orc ferocity, and call them orrocs!)

First, many GMs intentionally give ogres terrible tactics because they have an Intelligence of 6. But remember that this is three times as smart as a wolf. Would the smartest wolf you can conceive of make the bad tactical choice you are considering? No? Then neither should an ogre. Further their typical Wisdom of 10 and the fact they have Perception as a skill suggests ogres can recognize and analyze a situation even if they may do a terrible job describing it with good grammar. Certainly an ogre can recognize a spellcaster, see the issue with allowing foes to heal, know when to press the attack o have one unconscious foe and one healthy foe as preferable to two injured foes who can both fight back, and so on.

Indeed, recognizing spellcasters will often drive ogre tactics. With reach (which you can augment with various options below) an ogre has a decent chance of being able to strike a spellcaster in melee, and an ogre should know that they let their guard down when they cast spells, so desire to keep spellcasters close enough that they must cast defensively to avoid provoking attacks of opportunity from the ogre.

If facing foes without reach, an ogre with no adjacent enemies can safely attempt combat maneuvers against foes 10 feet away without provoking attacks of opportunity, and their Large size and high Strength makes them reasonable likely to succeed. Tripping foes can help with battlefield control (especially as the foe is likely to provoke an attack of opportunity when it stands), and disarming an enemy at least reduces the chance of suffering a full-attack action.

Some tactics are more like customizations, in that they move the ogre away from the base stat block of the bestiary, while staying a legal monster build.

Even if using slow progression, an ogre should average 550 gp of treasure, There is no need for this to all be gold and gems it hoards away in a pocket to be looted off its body. An ogre can have some of its treasure as gear it might use. As simple a choice as allowing it to carry a Large longspear (10 gp) gives the ogre an impressive 20 foot melee range, and it can drop the weapon and draw its greatclub if needed. With that much reach melee foes might well feel the need to risk a charge, and that means the ogre can brace to receive charge. (If this seems likely, consider a boar spear, which costs the same and gives a bonus to AC in that situation).

Similarly a Large heavy crossbow (100 gp) may only fire once every two rounds, but it gives the ogre a much heavier, longer-range initial punch. Since an ogres hide armor proves it is proficient with medium armor, upgrading to a Large breastplate (400 g, though it can save by not also buying Large hide armor for 30 gp) gives it +2 AC. A cure light wounds potion, thunderstone, tanglefoot bag, or other alchemical weapons can also increase it’s flexibility in battle, and are useful to 3rd level PCs as treasure.

If using multiple ogres, one throwing javelins and one with a boar spear can be an effective ranged-combat options until PCs manage to close in. If you have three or more ogres, you might consider giving one a kumade (which is a simple weapon with the grapple special weapon property) or a sickle (a simple weapon with the trip special weapon property) to keep foes worried about combat maneuvers.

If considering adjusting the ogre’s feats, Toughness can generally be swapped out for better choices. Improved Iron Will makes the ogre less likely to be defeated with a single bad Will save, or Power Attack gives it an excellent trade off of damage for a little reduced accuracy. If your campaign allows retraining, consider having two or more ogres with the Crowd Control teamwork feat to make it harder for foes to get inside their reach. If an ogre is going to be alone, the Desperate Battler feat may be useful.

And Now, A Tactical Mention of my Patreon

I have a patreon, I helps me justify the time spent writing all this free content. Sometimes it even has bots of exclusive bonus content. Go check it out!

The Martial Summoner

The summoner (in either its standard or unchained form) is a neat idea that allows a broad range of spellcasters with odd allies. Taught magic by a demon? Half-sister-sorcerer to a celestial badger? Gnome magician who can call forth creatures from the fey realm? The summoner has you covered.

But, weirdly, characters in fiction with a strong bond to a strange creature often AREN’T spellcasters. The child that bonds to an enormous monster. The orphan with a monster from under his bed. The knight with a monstrous steed. Those would all work well as summoners, if it weren’t for the total lack of any other sign of spellcasting power.

Enter, the martial summoner.

The martial summoner is a simple alternate class (or, arguable, a really invasive archetype) that keeps the eidolon and many related powers, but gives up 6 levels of spellcasting ability in favor of more sturdiness and combat-related abilities.

Eidlon

The martial summoner (which can be based on standard or unchained summoner) retains the eidolon, life link, bond senses, shield ally, maker’s call, transposition, greater shield ally, and merge forms ability and gains them as the same class levels. The eidolon may take the Mount and Large evolutions at 1st level, even though these require 5 evolution points and it only has 3. This does not reduce the cost of those evolutions, just allows 1st-3rd level martial summoner eidolons to gains these abilities using all their evolution points. The martial summoner’s eidolon recovers a number of hit point equal to double its HD the first time each day it is summoned.

The martial summoner does not gain any other summoner class features.

Base Statistics and Proficiencies

The martial summoner’s Fortitude save upgrades to be good, she gains proficiency with all simple and martial weapons, light, medium, and heavy armor, and all shields except tower shields. It gains 6 skill points/level, and may select any eight skills as class skills.

Martial Power

At 3rd level, the martial summoner gains one of the following benefits of the character’s choice:
*The arcane pool class feature as a magus 2 levels lower than her martial summoner level.

*The favored enemy (and later favored terrain) class features as a ranger 2 levels lower than her martial summoner level.

*The judgement class feature as an inquisitor 2 levels lower than her martial summoner level.

*The rage class feature (though no rage powers) as a barbarian 2 levels lower than her martial summoner level.

Soothing Presence

At 5th level, the martial summoner can grant her eidolon fast healing 1 for a number of rounds equal to double her class level once per day. She can use this ability twice per day at 10th level, and one additional time per day every 5 levels thereafter. The fast healing increases to fast healing 2 at 7th level, and by one more at 11th level and every 4 levels thereafter.

Unbreakable Team

At 7th level the martial summoner gains any one teamwork feat she meets the prerequisites for as a bonus feat. Her eidolon also gains this bonus feat. She gains an additional bonus teamwork feat at 9th level, and every two levels thereafter.

Second Martial Power

At 10th level the martial summoner can select a second martial power option, but this one functions with an effective class level equal to her martial summoner level -9.

Swift Call

At 16th level, once per day the martial summoner can perform the ritual to summon her eidolon as a full-round action.

True Martial Power

At 20th level, the martial summoner’s 3rd level martial power now functions using her full class level, and her 10th level martial power functions using her class level -5.

Patron Exclusive!

Over at my Patreon page, I had a thought for a single one-point evolution for a martial summoner’s ediolon which is currently available only to Patreon backers.

Check it out!

Unicorn Companions

It’s pretty common to want a unicorn companion in Pathfinder. It’s a neat idea, a common fiction trope, and a strong theme for mounted characters. The problem is, unicorns have lots of special abilities that make them too useful at low, and even mid levels, if they are just added to a character or are replacing a traditional animal companion. On the other hand, by higher level, unicorns are sure to be killed by high-level monsters.

In short there’s a very narrow level band where unicorns make sense (and even then they are a significant power boost), and that’s just not very satisfying for players who want a unicorn companion as a major part of their character concept.

With a little work, however, there’s another way to do the same idea. Rewrite unicorns using the animal companion rules, and require characters accessing them pay a price for the extra (balanced, scaling) power in the form of a feat.

Unicorn Companion

You have attracted the attention, and loyal service of a unicorn.

Prerequisites: Animal companion class feature (or ability that works as the animal companion class feature), alignment within 1 step of chaotic good.

Benefit: You can select a unicorn as your animal companion, using the special rules and Unicorn Companion Starting Statistics listed below. It otherwise follows the normal animal companion rules.

Special: If the campaign allows for unicorns of alignments other than chaotic good (ranging from black or red unicorns to simply a world with varying unicorn morality), this feat can be taken by a character of any alignment, and the unicorn companion gained is within 1 step of that alignment.

Unicorn Companion Starting Statistics

Size Large, Speed 40 ft.; AC +3 natural armor; Attack gore (1d6), 2 hooves (1d3)*; Ability Scores Str 16, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 11, Wis 15, Cha 17; Special Qualities darkvision (60 ft.), low-light vision, scent.

7th-Level Advancement

Speed 50 ft.; AC +1 natural armor; Attack gore (1d8), 2 hooves (1d3)*; Ability Scores Str +2, Dex +2, Con +2, Wis +4, Cha +4; Special Qualities +1 Unicorn progression.

* This is a secondary natural attack, see Combat for more information on how secondary attacks work.

Unicorn Progression

While the base unicorn companion is essentially a smart horse with a hron, it has access to a “unicorn progression” of special abilities. Each time the companion (not the player character it is a companion to) gains a feat, it may spend that feat to advance one more step along the unicorn progression, gaining more abilities. The abilities must be taken in order. One free progression occurs when the unicorn gains its 7th level advancement. The abilities are listed below, in order.

  1. Agent of Light: You can cast detect evil and light at will as spell-like abilities. You also gain a +1 bonus to saves against charm, compulsion, and poison, and on a single successful save negate such effects.
  2. Cure Light Wounds: You can cure light wounds as a spell-like ability a number of times per day equal to 1 + ¼ your HD. Your bonus to saves against charms, compulsions, and poisons increases to +2.
  3. Powerful Charge: You may end a charge attack with a single gore attack, that does double damage (as if using Spirited Charge). If you have a rider, the rider may also make a single melee attack at the end of your charge. If your rider has charge-related feats (such as Ride-By Attack) you may benefit from them when charging, though your charge damage multiple does not stack with any other effect that multiples your damage done on a charge. Also your gore attack is treated as magic and good for purposes of bypassing DR. Your bonus to saves against charms, compulsions, and poisons increases to +3.
  1. Mystic Creature: You can cast cure moderate wounds and neutralize poison, each ones per day, as spell-like abilities. Your movement speed increases by +10 feet. Your bonus to saves against charms, compulsions, and poisons increases to +4.
  1. Magic Circle Against Evil: You have this in effect constantly, as a spell-like ability, as an aura. Your bonus to saves against charms, compulsions, and poisons increases to +6.
  1. Alicorn Maxima: You can cast greater teleport (as the spell) as a spell-like ability once per day. You are immune to charms, compulsions, and poisons.

Patreon Exclusive Content

Of course once you are giving unicorns special abilities on a progression chart, you can use that same idea to add optional powers, like flight and magic horn abilities. I explore that idea over at my Patreon.

Check it out!

Totally Random Pathfinder Feat

Inspired by a DC Comics hero, and apropos of nothing:

Detonatable

You can blow up.

Benefit: You can cast a fireball at your location as a spell-like ability. Its caster level is equal to half your HD. This causes you to explode, as well. Your body flies apart as part of the fireball, but this does not kill you. Instead, your body exists as dust in the area of the fireball, and you reform (with all your gear and in the same condition as when you exploded) at a random point within the area of the fireball 1d4 rounds later. While you are dust, you can take no actions, and are subject only to effects that can impact a creature made of dust. You gain the fatigued condition (or exhausted if already fatigued, or unconscious of already exhausted) for 1 hour after reforming, even if you are normally immune to these conditions.

Patreon Exclusive

There’s a similarly random feat involving removing your own eyes and still looking around with them, Eye can See, as a patron exclusive over at my Patreon.

Check it out!

Bad Nights and Coping Mechanisms

It’s late, and I’m tired. Today was a massive failure. As a result, I feel like a massive failure.

So, to coping mechanisms.

Though I do not believe it emotionally, or intellectually, I am going to keep telling myself everything is going to be all right, and that things will get better. There are risks to this, but it serves me better than despair, so that’s the mechanism. It has to be rote, or I won’t do it when I most need it. I have sometimes dug up my old checklist, from when I literally could not trust myself to make smart care decisions on nights like this. I’d stare at the times, and feel total apathy. But doing something seemed smart, so I’d do those things. And check them off, each as I did it, no matter how minor. Some lists even include not doing things, so I get to mark those off just by properly focusing my sloth.

The coping mechanism says I have to go forward assuming I can fix things tomorrow. I can’t keep the failure of today with me, count all my progress against the negative value of this and all the failed days that came before. That’s stacking the deck against myself. I need to have a realistic assessment of what is possible, but that’s about looking forward not weighing down measures of success with things I could have gotten done if I just hadn’t failed miserably on a range of occasions.

I do know, looking at my track record, that sometimes I pull it out, and sometimes I don’t. I also know I am a bad judge of my ratios of success to failure, and that smart people I trust often have a very different opinion of how I am doing. That all gets added to the coping mechanism calculations.

But there’s no point on hammering my brain any harder about this tonight. That hasn’t worked since I was 35. When I am done, I am done.

I need to go through my checklist of things to try to give tomorrow the best chance. What I eat, what I read or watch, how late I stay up, whether I take my prescriptions—these things feel utterly pointless right now, but I know they are not. However bad things are, there is no point in making them worse.

I am bad at self-care, but making every effort I am able to is part of the coping mechanism.

Also do the best you can to take care of yourself, and forgive yourself of your failures.

Concept Feat: Wings!

There are lots of different ways to pick a character concept to play in a roleplaying game. For class-and-level games like Pathfinder, I generally flip through the various core options and customizable choices, and those will spark a character concept. (If I’ve made characters in a specific game system many times, my process may be a little different). The advantage of this system is that my concept is inspired by mechanics, so I am unlikely to try to make a character the system doesn’t handle well.

But in my experience with players, it’s actually more common to be inspired by a character from fiction, or video games, or even other RPGS, and try to find a way to build that concept using whatever rules are available. That can cause issues, because not every RPG is designed to support every character concept. Extreme cases of this issue are fairly intuitive—no one seems surprised that Pathfinder is the wrong RPG to try to play Superman—but if the inspirational character is in a genre anywhere near the RPG’s genre, players get more annoyed. There’s no good way to play a rich princess with hundreds of servants and loyal knights as a 1st level character in Pathfinder except for the GM to decide the campaign being run will give you that position outside of anything on your character sheet.

Some people accept level limitations to character concepts (as soon as you can take Leadership that princess becomes easier, and most people understand in-his-prime Batman isn’t a 1st level character), but it chafes for people who just want to make something they think would be fun and run with it. And ideas that don’t integrate well with the rules at any level are even more disappointing.

In general, it’s up to a GM and players to ensure PC concepts are appropriate to a campaign, and no RPG handles every concept as attempted by any player, but some common difficult trops can be tackled in an effort to show how a GM CAN accommodate some character concepts with house rules, if the GM wants to.

One way to do that is “concept feats,” feats that do more than a typical feat but are taken only at character creation and only with GM approval to create a specific concept for a character. Such feats need to scale carefully, so they aren’t overpowering at low levels, and players just need to accept that the trappings of the idea may not come in at full power early on. Such feats aren’t designed for general use as available options for any character at any level, but as special options granted only at character creation when a GM and player want to stretch the rules a bit. To be most useful a GM needs to be able to create concept feats to match each PC concept the GM likes and wants to allow, but the rules don’t currently exist for. Most likely charatcers should be limited to one concept feat and they such have a notation to indicate their special nature, such as an explanation point in their title. Here’s an example concept feat, Wings!

Wings! (Concept)

Whether a result of a storied lineage or a strange mutation or special blessing, you have innate wings.

Prerequisites: Taken at character creation with GM permission to allow an otherwise-impossible character concept.

Benefit: You have wings. While they don’t weigh you down or cause problems with your gear, you can only use them when you are not suffering any penalties to your movement rate or mobility (such as from armor or encumbrance or slowing magic, or grappling), and only if you have enough room for a creature one size larger than you (though your actual space does not increase). If any effect disables one of your limbs, there is a 25% chance it instead disables a wing.

Fly is always a class skill for you, and you can make Fly checks in place of Acrobatics checks whenever you are able to use your wings, and for any Acrobatics-based prerequisites. At 1st level, your wings allow you to treat all jumps as running jumps, and to jump down a number of feet equal to double a Fly check result without taking damage or falling prone. At 3rd level you can fly downward with a fly speed equal to double your movement rate. At 5th level you double all Fly checks made as Acrobatics checks to jump. At 7th level you can fly with a fly speed equal to double your movement rate for a number of minutes per day equal to your level. At 9th level, you wings grant you a normal fly speed equal to double your movement rate.

Patreon Exclusive Content

I realized I never tackled the idea of the 1st level PC who is royalty, or something similar, so I created the Upper Class! concept feat, which is currently a patron-exclusive post over at my Patreon.

Check it out!

 

Depressions is, well, depressing

One of the realities of struggling with clinical depression is that even with therapy, even with prescriptions, even with support systems and coping strategies…

Some days you’re just so fucking depressed it’s hard to move. To think. To even open your eyes.

Nothing has to happen. The biggest problem, in fact, is that is can be causeless and sourceless. There’s nothing to fix, nothing “getting you down,” nothing “wrong.”

Except your joy is broken, and your entire existence boils down to justifying each breath.

Big Magic

For obvious reasons, published spells for the Pathfinder Roleplaying game tend to focus on things that are at least modestly likely to be desired results for spellcasters using them at primary or secondary spell slots. That does mean there’s an entire class of spells – effects that for both balance and cosmology reasons require spell slots so high to create brad but minor results that most spellcasters wouldn’t ever either learning or casting – that haven’t ever been explored. I think of these as “big magic,” things that are obviously powerful but that a typical adventuring spellcaster never needs.

What level spell does it take to do one point of damage to everyone within a mile? Ten miles/ 100 miles?

Yet one of the things I have learned is that there are many ways creative players will find to use spells that as a designer or GM, I wouldn’t have thought of. So, sometimes I play with potential big magic, mostly as a thought experiment.

Here are two examples of big magic, built off iconic low-level spells.

Magic Volley

School evocation (force); Level Wizard 6

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S

Range long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)

Area/Targets every creature within a radius of 100 ft. +10 ft./level

Duration instantaneous

Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance yes

You fire one magic missile at every creature within the spell’s area.

 

Succor All Wounds

School conjuration (healing); Level Cleric 6

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S

Range long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)

Area/Targets every living creature within a radius of 100 ft. +10 ft./level

Duration instantaneous

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

You heal every living creature in the area of 1d8+5 hit points.

Patreon Exclusive

I included one other example, a 6th level bardic spell conference, as exclusive content over at my blog. Check it out!

Optional Rule: Dolorous Wounds

This is an idea I have played with a lot, but never felt I had a good home for it or a final version of the rule.

New Optional Rule: Dolorous Wounds

Dolorous wounds are an option rule that both explains why the dead and undead are sometimes depicted with injuries sustained in life (if magic can make a skeleton get up and walk, why can’t it fix chipped ribs and cracked skulls?), and to give GMs another option to deal with questions of PC mortality and resurrection other than raise dead and similar spells.

The dolorous wounds rule assumes that some wounds are so deep, so horrific and life-threatening, that they damage the life force (or “soul) of their targets. Dolorous wounds never fully heal of their own accord, and because the wounded creature’s life force is also wounded, healing magic cannot restore them to full health. As long as the wounded creature’s soul has a piercing near its heart, for example, the creature’s heart will never be at full strength.

When using dolorous wounds, when a character would normally be killed, the player may instead choose for the character to suffer a “dolorous wound.” The dolorous wound produces some physical ailment, agreed upon by player and the GM (normally a -1 penalty to one category of skill checks, most often Str, Dex, Con, or Cha-based skills, though a penalty to range modifier for losing an eye or a reduction of movement rate for a limp are also appropriate). In general, the penalty should be to skills of an ability score that is one the character’s 3 highest, and that have related skills the character has put at least a few skill points in – a 7 Charisma fighter who never uses any Cha-based skills shouldn’t think he’s immortal because he’s willing to take penalties to social efforts and UMD.

A dolorous wound is so severe the damage is duplicated on the character’s soul, making it impossible to heal with normal magic. A special ritual may be able to fix a dolorous wound, but it has at least the cost and difficulty of a true resurrection spell. You cannot use the dolorous wound rule to escape death as a result of a coup de grace.

The dolorous wound rule should only be used for player characters and major NPCs. (In some campaigns it’s appropriate to restrict dolorous wounds to creatures with heroic class levels). These rules allow a game to make magic that raises the dead very rare, without having players constantly have to replace a favored PC (or GMs come up with a new master villain) when someone actually dies. The penalties for a dolorous wound are severe enough to encourage players to avoid dying, but not so great at to make characters unplayable. A campaign that allows dolorous wounds makes death a much rarer occurrence among players, and thus prevents it from losing all meaning and impact. A campaign using this rule can even eliminate such spells as raise dead, presenting a world where death is permanent (or much more so than in a typical campaign), without making it impossible for players to keep their PCs after a major defeat.

Alternatively, dolorous wounds can be a background rule, something the GM makes players aware of but largely as something that explains why the king has an old war wound while surrounded by 13th level spellcasters, and why some undead come back missing heads, arms, or other body parts. Dolorous wounds as a concept—injuries that inflict damage on the target’s soul and thus defy standard healing, can be useful purely for story purposes.

Patreon Exclusive Content

Over at my Patreon, I added an undead template, the gan ceann, which turns any corporeal undead into a headless monstrosity due to a dolorous wound preventing them from being whole, even in death. It’s a minor patron exclusive idea, check it out!

Esoteric Paladin Mercies

Unlike rogues or even rangers and fighters, paladins don’t have a lot of abilities where they get to select one of a list of class features. That can make it tricky to create new paladin options without going as far as building a whole archetype. But if you get creative with mercies, there are some interesting, balanced options you can use.

Esoteric Mercies

Esoteric mercies are special abilities paladins may select in place of a new mercy of the appropriate level, but which give them different mercies than the standard benefits to their lay on hands abilities.

3rd Level Esoteric Mercies

Final Mercy (Ex): The harsh reality of battle is, sometimes there is nothing a paladin can offer but a swift death. A paladin with this mercy can perform a coup de grace as a move action using a use of his mercy ability, and deals additional damage equal to his lay on hands dice. These additional dice are not multiplied by the weapon’s critical damage multiplier. If slain, the target is affected by sanctify corpse, but it gains no other lay on hands ability.

Swift Succor: The paladin has focused on granting her healing abilities to allies quickly. She can lay on hands to heal others as a move action.

6th Level Esoteric Mercies

Boon of Light (Sp): As a move action the paladin can create light, as the spell, at will. If the paladin is holding a magic weapon that produces magic light, this light illuminates to a radius of 40 feet, and counters darkness spells of a spell level equal to 1/3 the paladin’s class level. If the paladin has a holy magic weapon that creates light, this ability acts as the daylight spell, and can counter darkness spells with a spell level equal to half the paladin’s class level.

Ranged Succor: The paladin need not touch allies to grant the benefit of her lay on hands. She can use lay on hands on a target within 60 feet as a full round action (or a standard action, if she has the swift succor mercy).

 

9th Level Esoteric Mercies

Holy Avenger: When wielding a weapon with the holy or bane (vs. evil outsiders) magic special ability, the paladin gains SR equal to 10 + her paladin level + her Charisma modifier. This SR only applies against spells with the evil descriptor, and those from creatures with the evil subtype. Each time the SR successfully prevents a spell from affecting the paladin, the paladin expends one use of her lay on hands ability for the day. If she has no lay on hands uses left, she does not gain DR.

One More Patreon Exclusive Option

I have also played with options to allow paladins to expand their spell lists to be more deity-specific, and one of those ideas is essentially also an esoteric mercy. So I am including it over at my Patreon page as exclusive content (which just means it’s not available anywhere else right now — it may still show up elsewhere or in a product someday). Go check it out!