Thursday, January 3, 2013

Animal Spirit Allies 2

It’s time to come back to Animal Spirit Allies. I want to follow up with some new ideas.

One idea that unifies all animal spirit allies is that most animal are quadruped. That might not sound important, but just giving quadruped advantages to a melee character is a great help, especially if their allies are the big and heavy type.

In 3.X, we have a few traits that being a virtual quadruped would give:

Quadruped can carry more than people.
Quadruped have a bonus on many Strength checks because they have four legs.
Quadrupeds can eat a wider array of foods.

Those three items each add something back into our melee folks. First off, getting a strength check bonus is always good for our melee folks as they face increasingly difficult strength challenges as they level. Likewise, carrying more is also very good for them. Finally, the ability to eat a wider array of food is a great and continuous role-playing gag.

Now, let’s get into that crunch.

First, we have some common advantages to being a quadruped animal scattered around the books. Here are the ones that I found:

Low Light Vision
+4 Defense vs Bull Rush
+4 Defense vs Trip

Quadrupeds can carry heavier loads than characters can. From the SRD:

Instead of the multipliers given above, multiply the value corresponding to the creature’s Strength score from Table: Carrying Capacity by the appropriate modifier, as follows: Fine x1/4, Diminutive x1/2, Tiny x3/4, Small x1, Medium x1-1/2, Large x3, Huge x6, Gargantuan x12, Colossal x24.

That’s terrifically handy for a lower level party. Your fighter becomes even more of a pack mule than before. On the other hand, that is a point of derision. A class’s job should not be pack mule. Still, any advantage is an advantage.

Low Light Vision is great for humans and halflings.

The defenses against bull rush and trip are less good than they seem. I rarely see those two maneuvers used by DMs. So clearly we need animals spirit allies to add more if we are to increase fighter upward by one to two tiers.

Riffing off what animals can do, we can pull out some other interesting abilities that are useful to a character or a party. Do note that the abilities of an animal are not a directly template for your character bonuses. Rather, they are an inspiration for choosing those bonuses. Likewise, any special powers that a creature might have is also an inspiration.

Goat - You move across rough terrain with no penalty.
Boar - You take no penalties while disabled or dying.
Bear - Scent, +4 swim
Ape - Take 10 on climb checks. +4 bonus to climb.
Badger - +4 escape artist
Bison - Overrun
Cheeta - Move 2x your normal speed one round every ten minutes
Crocodile - Hold breath

Some abilities are strictly better than others, and some racial bonuses are strictly better than others. In my opinion, you should get a wide variety of +2 skill bonuses or one big +4 bonus.

Some abilities might be a little good for first or second level, but mostly they don’t matter. I have never seen anyone abuse Escape Artist, and can’t fathom how it could be abused even with skill stacking. The same is true of swimming and climbing. Scent and hold breath are the clear winners in terms of flexibility.

The problem with all these powers is that each of them is obviated by magic by mid-levels.

The one thing that won’t be superceded by magic is social status. An  animal spirit ally should make you a leader among your peers. Fighters should gain Fighter Level + 3 ranks in diplomacy and intimidate, but no more than Character Level + 3 ranks. (No gaming the system here.) In addition, a fighter may now substitute either his Str or Con for Cha when making Diplomacy or Intimidate checks.

Perhaps simpler, give the fighter 4 ranks per level and add Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Sense Motive to the class.

So an animal spirit ally turns the fighter into a good face. It doesn’t supercede a bard, but it certainly does well enough. Give the class a focus on Diplomacy at 5th or 7th level and you’re gold.

And guess what? I’m still not satisfied.