Friday, December 7, 2012

Animal Spirit Allies

In many respects, Bear Warrior is an incomplete answer to a martial need: how can you add amazing abilities? This is a historical problem. Every warrior from every society has sought such advantages. The thing is, they don’t abandon who they are, or what their class is. What they do is to layer on a new level of abilities.

Gaining power from animal spirits is one such answer. By gaining the help of these spirits, warriors gain the abilities of those spirits, and by that, are stronger than their enemies. The challenge to me, then, is how I create a set of rules that helps this idea? How do I implement this under OGL vs. D&D 4th edition? What about Next?

Animal Spirit Allies Under OGL (D&D 3.X)

In OGL, we have the problem of promiscuous multiclassing. As a designer, I can’t guarantee how classes will go together, or even rely on classes at all. Compounding this is the fact that non-magic characters don’t actually have anything that I can key off of, and even if I did, prestige classes make that determination even more difficult.

A simple way to implement this would be to create a Caster Level cost. That is, your caster level would be reduced by X levels. As losing Caster Level is a harsh penalty for a caster, this would help keep the cross-class abuse to a minimum. However, we have classes like Ranger that would do well to have animal totems, and they gain spells, so a penalty to them would be fairly harsh. Reducing all spellcasting to ½ level, which most non-casters already get as penalties, might sidestep that well enough.

I am sure that abuses are still possible. An important note is that spirits are independent entities. The spirits can get offended and go away. You are not guaranteed of their help. Fortunately, ceremonies can mend the relationship. So if things do go awry, the DM does have a brake. For the most part, there should be no need for a DM to put the brakes on Tier 4 and Tier 5 characters.

With such a low cost, every non-magic character would rationally want a creature totem. As all low-tier classes need a boost, that is good.

All spirit allies provide the following:

  • Character can polymorph into a normal version of the represented animal. With a feat, that can be improved to celestial/infernal version.
  • Small characters choose small animals
  • Medium characters choose medium animals or large animals, although they only change into medium versions of their chosen animal. Feats enable larger versions.
  • Character polymorphs as a move action. With a feat, this can be reduced to a swift action.
  • The spirit provides two skills at ranks equal to character level + 3. These skills are thematically appropriate for their animal.
  • The character gains a feat appropriate to the animal.

Let’s see how this works out. A fighter chooses an elk as his animal spirit. The elk spirit gives him the skills Intimidation and Listen. The elk gives him the feat Bull Rush. He can change into an elk at will.

Meanwhile, a Ranger chooses a wolf. He gains the Endurance feat, and the Hide and Move Silently skills. He can change into a wolf.

A halfling rogue, being small, chooses a fox. He chooses the skills Spot and Search, and the feat Tracking.

Can that be abused? Yes, I’m sure that it can, but in an average enough game, these rules will work well enough.

Animal Spirit Allies Under 4th Edition

Here, animal spirits work far easier. Any character in a class that does not gain spells can gain an animal spirit. In this case, the spirit only gives you the ability to change shape into the appropriate creature. The rest can be handled ad-hoc. Essentially, it just becomes a bit of fun. Attack rolls, power, and such remain the same. The animal form could switch out a few powers, giving you different at-will abilities for that encounter appropriate to the animal and the level of the character.

What About Spellcasters?

Spellcasters can get animal spirits, too. However, those are already modeled into the class. It’s just a matter of fluff to say, “I have an animal spirit helping me.” The character already has the magic to prove that power.

Flying is a bit of a problem. Flying forms should be limited by archetype. Controllers should always be the smallest flyers, strikers medium flyers, and tanks as the largest.

Animal Spirit Allies Under Next

We don’t know all of Next yet. I assume that is will be better balanced. For now, the forms should be acquirable as a quest, and it should count as your move to change forms. Medium races should get medium creatures, and small races get small creatures (or miniature versions of larger creatures).

How to pay for this? I don’t have a clue yet.

As a hack, combat should just use appropriate weapons for the class.

I think that spellcasters would have no fingers, so casting spells as an animal should be a large problem for them.

That’s about it for this post. I’ve kicked this can around enough already.