A custom class for community review - Nordanbjörn

34 posts / 0 new
Last post
Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01
A custom class for community review - Nordanbjörn
They assure me over at rpg.net that this is a cool and easy-going little community, so I'll leap right in with my first post and put this thing I wrote out for critique and comment. It started for me with the panserbjørne from Pullman's His Dark Materials. Bear vikings in armor? Yes. Yes, I want that. A little research on the mythological and legendary underpinnings turned up some great Inuit, Russian, and Scandinavian stories on sapient bears or people turned into bears (White Bear King Valemon, for example). I've created a character of this type in several fantasy games with good results, so I began to consider how to implement it in a game in the D&D family tree. I was noodling with something for the Rules Cyclopedia, and then I stumbled across ACKS and found it marvelous. So in a surge of initial enthusiasm, I wrote up this custom nonhuman class - Nordanbjörn (Northern Bears). It's pretty much complete, lacking only the domain management components which I still need to work up for it to be properly finished. I eyeballed the game balance. It's probably not ideal, but my novice eye can't spot anything too game-breaking. My priority was to maintain the bearlike stuff as much as possible, and meter it out over the class's levels. The four bear writeups in the Monsters section provided an easy way to mark the main 'upgrade' points in the progression. A goal was to make the size and stance of the Nordanbjörn matter in mechanically meaningful ways, both advantageous and disadvantageous. So I hunted out as many mechanical hooks in the rules where being increasingly large would matter. It was also important that this class not just seem like a fighter in a bear costume, so fluff and mechanics needed to differ enough that it played different and felt different from a human fighter. Anyhow, enough blather. I wrote it up in google docs, and used the simple publish function to make it available. Preliminary apologies for poor writing, bad grammar, and any formatting aberrations caused by gdoc's web publishing. Nordanbjörn - The Northern Bears Thanks, -Ben Air Force 1
Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

A followup - one simplification for this class I was considering would be to consolidate all the bonus/penalty numbers for being big and ferocious and bearlike and make it a single number which would serve as a bonus in some situations and a penalty in others. This could be spread out across more levels rather than ratcheting up at certain key levels, and applying it would have some guidelines in the class writeup and room for player and Judge interpretation at the table.
edited to add - the easiest bonus progression here would be the same as attack (2 per 3). It's already a number expressed in the writeup.
-Ben

Nikephoros Phokas
Joined: 2011-10-19 17:02

Linguistic note: "nordan-" sounds poetic in swedish since the only practical word which has it is "nordanvind" (wind from the north) which itself is archaic. So that's good shit. Also the level titles are great.
Super cool concept!
Feeback: the bears grow with experience and not age ;)
Without delving in to the math too much: fictionally I think you can ramp up the food requirement, especially since the bear can carry more. It should probably have modified movement rates instead of just increased cap. for carrying. I don't know how much a real bear has to eat but that is secondary to the feel of it.
Why the great save vs. paralysis? It already gets a bonus to close combat stuff when it grows.
Why the stat requirements? Since it is already implied that the attribute scale is different with this class (the bonus to bash doors) you might as well go all the way and say that 10 is an average bear but it's still stronger than most humans. Or is it about scarcity?
Another way to calculate the XP in a "fair" way would be to look at the ACKS reincarnation rules. I think its 3,500 XP to be a monster (although they don't get the additional goodies this class has so 4,000 XP per level seems about right.
I'll delve in to the numbers later, since I've been trying to make a bunch of different fighting classes (but not quite succeeded) I'd love to see how this one performs. I imagine it should be worse than a fighter per XP because of the additional benefits (and to not turn the game into Dungeons&Bears, ACKS is really based on Halflings&Clerics ;>).

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

I had help from a gracious native speaker on rpg.net to get the poetical phrasing down better. My initial google translate version was "nordligbjorn" which would have sounded weird to a speaker.
On the Paralysis save... I went with good there because they'r meant to be big and hard to stop and very hard to hold. They just shrug that kind of thing off. Force of nature stuff. I tried to think about which saves would reflect toughness and power and which would reflect agility and maneuverability. Can't say I succeeded, but that was what I was trying for. Since this is the throw used to resist wrestling and grappling, it would be a weird if a huge bear was easier to wrestle to the ground than a human.
On the Strength thing... mostly, I was thinking "Bears are strong, so high Strength requirement" and also to provide for some rarity. Me, I'd never say NO to somebody who wanted to play a certain kind of character, but some tables like to have some mechanical gate guards restricting access so I figured it would be easy for somebody like me to fudge (roll and assign, drop a score by 2 to add 1 to another) or somebody else to allow on a roll-only basis. I could probably drop the req's to 10 or 12, and tweak the way bear cover works.
-Ben

Charlatan
Adventurer Conqueror King ContributorPlayer's Companion BackerDwimmermount BackerDomains At War Contributor
Joined: 2011-08-08 15:20

I've made a few attempts at trying to adapt monstrous playable races to a system that's compatible with the class-creation rules from the Player's Companion, and I can make a few observations:
Obviously, d8 hit dice (that's 2 base point, and 1000xp).
They clearly have at least Fighting 2 (2 base points, 1000xp).
I'd count natural attacks as a fighting style, so (combined with no shields or weapons) you have 1 of 3 styles (two trade-offs, 300xp).
I'd count the multiple attack routine as a very powerful ability: Probably 2 powers + 1/additional attack, so 4 for claw/claw/bite.
I'd count the base damage increase of the claws and bites as a power each for each rank, but since it's graduated decrease it. So monsters tend to start claws at 1d2 (4 increases), and bite at d6 (3 increases). Probably 3 total powers.
They have no weapons (5 trade-offs), and the lack of missile weapons means no missile damage bonus (1) (6 trade-offs, 900xp).
So, you've traded off 8 powers, but incurred 7 so far. They also have swashbuckling baked in, so that's 8 powers. Your base xp so far is 3200xp.
They have something more-or-less like survival, so that's an "unpaid" power.
The brute strength bonus is like the melee damage bonus, but with a baseline increase of 2 (2 powers, modeled after fighting styles proficiency). So that's 3 unpaid powers.
The bears are big, which has some drawbacks but also some benefits. On the whole, I'd count this as 2 custom powers (given the missile shielding): 5 unpaid powers.
The reaction rolls are a wash.
Seeing that you get monstrous ability to attack at level 5+, you might just model this as Fighting 3. That would bump you up to 5 base points, and bump your base xp up to 3700xp and 5 unpaid powers.
If you follow the dwarf pattern of racial power costs, this is close to a 1 base point race allocation, which covers the 5 unpaid powers but bumps your xp cost up to 4100xp and lowers your level limit to 11 (for 6 base points).
So, I don't think you're totally out of the ballpark eyeballing it- just slightly low on the base xp.

Charlatan
Adventurer Conqueror King ContributorPlayer's Companion BackerDwimmermount BackerDomains At War Contributor
Joined: 2011-08-08 15:20

Addendum: the unified bonus you were talking about would work as the thing I described to model your brute strength bonus- the standard Fighter melee damage bonus for your level + 2.
I'm also treating bonus powers for the class and those for the race as fungible, but if there was another bear class you'd want to separate the two.

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

That's pretty sweet - no idea I was that close. I have not seen those class building rules, so I was winging it. I cribbed the XP from the Eleven Spellsword because it was high, and they had lots of stuff they could do (primary magic and primary fighting, plus elf stuff).
I had to give the bears the monster's 5hd attacking ability because they have no way to wield weapons which can pierce that sort of supernatural defense otherwise, and it seemed fitting.
-B

Charlatan
Adventurer Conqueror King ContributorPlayer's Companion BackerDwimmermount BackerDomains At War Contributor
Joined: 2011-08-08 15:20

I've always wondered: What happens to the bear when he claws a wight?

Nikephoros Phokas
Joined: 2011-10-19 17:02

At first level they have a significantly better damage output than a fighter. Since a full grown regular bear has 4 HD how about making another step that has the attack series 1D2/1D2/1D4? This makes them an itty bitty more dangerous than 1st level fighters with two handed weapons. Since a bear in armor is fucking awesome and everyone will use it anyway I would give them a D10 HD (just so they feel meatier) and say their skin is a flat +2 to AC and that armor fitted for them always have gaps making it 2/3 as effective (so a bear plate armor gives +4 AC and bear in mail is +3 AC). This way bears can take more hits than humans but won't have better AC.
The 5 HD ferocity thing was inspired.

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

I was thinking there'd only be this bear class - I tried to load out their proficiency list so you could customize them a bit. Get performance and magical music to make a singing skald, or pick up some combat oriented ones for a mercenary, or wilderness ones for a scout or hunter type. But at their core, they're big beasts who can bite through a man's skull.
-Ben

Charlatan
Adventurer Conqueror King ContributorPlayer's Companion BackerDwimmermount BackerDomains At War Contributor
Joined: 2011-08-08 15:20

wilmer- if you bump them up to d10 hit dice, their max level goes down to 10 and their base xp goes up to 4,600xp.

Nikephoros Phokas
Joined: 2011-10-19 17:02

Another thing to take in to account: other classes get +1 damage per STR mod, bears get +1 x 3. I dunno if this is a bad thing but a fix could be like this:
STR
13-15 = 1DX/1DX/1DY+1
16-17 = 1DX+1/1DX+1/1DY
18 = 1DX+1/1DX+1/1DY+1
for symmetry.

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

On attacking a wight - I hate those guys so much. Probably a Judge's call. Is the wight's touch a deliberate act or an involuntary function of their nature? If voluntary, then it'll be no prob to bite and claw the hell out of them (assuming they have hit 5th level and can even do so), otherwise... yeah, otherwise bear is totally screwed. There's no percentage in fighting those guys if there's any way to avoid it. Level draining bastards.
Let me go back and do some revisions on the class. I'll create a new doc so the old one will be available for comparison, and post when it's completed.
Thanks all,
-Ben

Charlatan
Adventurer Conqueror King ContributorPlayer's Companion BackerDwimmermount BackerDomains At War Contributor
Joined: 2011-08-08 15:20

Wilmer-
I'd want to avoid that kind of bookkeeping: If the multiple attacks seem to exaggerate the benefit of STR, I'd make that ability more expensive.

Nikephoros Phokas
Joined: 2011-10-19 17:02

Charlatan: if you look at that forumula it's super simple and you only need to look at it once in the characters life time unless STR changes. What it simply says is that the bonus to damage is only counted once per attack routine and that bears with +1 dmg use it for their bite, bears with +2 use +1 for either claw and those with +3 get +1 for both claws and bite.

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

A simple rule might be "you can only add your STR bonus to one attack in a round". Meaning, one powerful claw attack, one weaker follow-up, and a regular bite.
-B

Nikephoros Phokas
Joined: 2011-10-19 17:02

That makes it subtly better unless you commit to which attack in the series it is before rolling. Sorry if I'm a pain in the butt but I groove on this concept so much I want it to be perfect!

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

I think using that d2/d2/d4 starting progression and adding STR once (say, to the first attack that lands in the routine) feels about right.
Say bear (STR 16/+2) and Fighter (STR 16/+2). Both first level, and both have the same chance to hit. Bear rolls three times, fighter once. Give the fighter a weapon inflicting a d8. The fighter is doing 1d8+3 (+2 for STR, +1 for class bonus). Against an unarmored foe, he's got roughly even odds, same as the bear. His max is 11 points of damage, his minimum is 3. If the bear hits with all attacks, he does a max of 10 (max die rolls and the STR bonus once). But landing all those attacks and rolling best damage on all three rolls is really pretty unlikely. He's got a much wider range of possible results, and is probably going to do about 5 or 6 points of damage typically. I think the main difference is that he's got a greater chance to do some damage because of the three attack rolls. The fighter will probably average more when you compare successful hits, but when you factor in the rounds where the fighter totally whiffs, the bear comes out ahead longer term. I don't want to drill too deep into this though, and start trying to balance DPR and statistics. I think the fighter comes out better at 1st level regardless, because of his armor and weapons. He'll have a better AC than the bear, and will start with a ranged attack. Things get weirder as the bear gets tougher and bigger and can afford some barding, but at first I don't think the fighter is going to feel underpowered in comparison.
edit - especially when you compare them both to a Spellsword. That smug jerk has less hit points, but he's got armor and weapons and magic to throw around.
-B

Radioactive Ape...
Joined: 2012-02-02 19:39

Hey Ben! *waves* It is a friendly, polite place around here, made all the more so by your appearance, matey! :)

demoss
Player's Companion BackerDwimmermount Backer
Joined: 2012-02-04 10:44

Re. paralysis saves to rule in wrestling, etc: there's a rule about special maneuvers between opponents of vastly different size or unusual size on p. 110, which sets up those bears nicely without additional save bonuses -- but should then probably get a mention in the writeup.

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

A mention of that rule is in there, but part of the issue conceptually is that the old saving throw categories don't provide much grip when trying to get a handle on what they mean beyond their specific zone of defense. Why is a magical effect from a wand different from one from a spell? Does the Blast save indicate good reflexes or resilience? I want the bears to be really tough and strong, but which saves would indicate that? I imagined their good paralysis save being the result of their raw power - they'd just plow through efforts to hold them immobile (rather than nimbly evade them). But being large, they'd have a lousy time evading AOE blasty stuff.
Some of the stuff coming out of the 5E design is intriguing to me - a saving throw or defense value for each ability score. That's easy to grok.
Limits of the medium, I suppose.
-B

Alex
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

The saving throws are abstract, and intentionally so.
For example, consider a character fighting an infectious zombie. If bitten, he must save v. Poison, with a failed save meaning he is infected with zombie-plague. Does a successful save v. poison mean that the character has resisted the infection, or does a successful save mean the character didn't *actually* get bitten at all, just banged up/bruised by the impact of the attack? ACKS doesn't say, and it's left to the Judge's interpretation.
In contrast, D&D 3.5 would say that resisting the zombie is either a Fort save or a Reflex save and that's that. This has the advantage of clarity, but it has the disadvantage in that each saving throw can only be about one factor (toughness or reflexes or whatnot) rather than being multi-factorial.
Something to keep in mind about saves is that when "what do you save against" is unknown, it flows left-to-right. So, for example, blast-spells save v. Blast, not save v. Spell. By the time you get to save v. Spells you are dealing with ONLY spells that are not paralyzing, poison, death, blasts, or petrification, which means basically charms, mind control, and so on.
To answer your other questions:
1) A wand is different from a spell because the spell effect is indirect rather than directly from the caster's will, which makes mental effects easier to resist. (Wands that shoot fireballs are still saves v. Blast, remember).
2) Blast is both good reflexes and resilience, as well as (perhaps) luck, favor of the goods, or counter-spells.
3) Bears that are tougher and stronger than humans would have across the board better saves than humans against Paralyzation, Poison, and Blast, all other things being equal.

Alex
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

PS It's very exciting to see you develop your class. Monstrous classes are challenging to design but this seems like it'd be quite fun. It would fit in really well in the Auran Empire's Jutland campaign area.

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

Here's an updated and revised version of the class. I went with the smaller starting damage for the attack routine, and added another level to it so there's a bump there every other level. Most of the bonuses and penalties are now figured off a score called Beast Modifier (which I don't like at all) which rates their bearishness. Almost all their advantages have a clear corresponding disadvantage, some of which are more telling than others. I tweaked the Blast save as Alex suggested, so it's better than it was.
Northern Bears revised v0.2
-Ben

Nikephoros Phokas
Joined: 2011-10-19 17:02

Level title suggestions:
2nd level Stackplundr (ant hill raider/looter, bears like to hibernate beneath ant hills)
3rd level Stridsnalle (fighting teddy, nalle is an affectionate word for bear)
4th level Bamsekrigr (teddy warrior, bamse is an affectionate but arcaic word for bear)
6th level Stamkrigare (means tribal warrior but is a pun, björnstammen means the total count of bears)
7th level Storbjörn (big bear)
8th level Mördarbjörn (killer bear)
Or if you want a more sinister title: Mansjägare (man hunter) Mansdräper (man slayer) or maybe just Dräpr (slayer).
Wikipedia says Björn actually means brown and that the original nordic name for bear was taboo and is now forgotten (probably because writing it or saying it loud would summon them). The more you now!

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

I made a few additional tweaks to the class - clarifying a couple of things, and making the armor costs easier to figure out. Also, added in wilmer's suggested titles.
-B

blizack
Joined: 2011-07-16 15:35

This is great work. I'm really happy to see people going beyond the usual fantasy archetypes recently and coming up with some truly unique classes. It looks like the class creation rules from the Player's Companion are going to be pretty popular.
Good to have you aboard, Bailywolf!

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

The size-based stuff I worked out for these guys could translate pretty easily to making a PC ogre or form the basis for a playable dragon subspecies. A small dragon presents some class building challenges, but also opportunities. Flight seems powerful, but isn't all that amazing when the rest of the party is earthbound and they spend half their time doing high impact combat spelunking. You get the issue of breath weapon added to claw/claw/bite, but there's cool opportunities there for sub-tables. Perhaps the dragonling is hatched not knowing what sort of dragon it will become, and at various key levels (moults) it develops new characteristics (randomly rolled), including getting a breath weapon at 5th or 9th.
To achieve its full growth it needs to consume huge amounts of meat, exotic substances, and other gold sinks (so, as it's another class not dependent on gear, cash earned from adventuring goes into allowing it to level up).
I was considering another class based around the notion of trickster animals - foxes, raccoons, coyotes, ravens, rabbits, snakes, spiders - who in various mythologies learn the secrets of assuming human form. Japan, China, the America, and Europe all have tricker animals mythology. Class would be built a little like a thief, with possibly a touch of illusion-type magic, and the classic ability to return to animal form. Each animal type would have a modest special thematic ability. Raccoons would find more treasure, Foxes would be charming and have reaction mods, rabbits could borrow luck from their future self (reroll a die now at the expense of allowing the Judge to force a reroll later at his whim). That kind of thing.
Anyhow, topics for another thread.
-B

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

I was reading the special combat maneuvering rules again, and I noticed something I'd missed when writing up these guys - it says a combatant with an attack routine can use any of those attacks to instead perform a maneuver.
How should I adjudicate this for the Nordanbjörn? Allow them to swap claw/claw/bite for sunder/disarm/force-back? With their categorical size bump at 5th, against human sized foes this would make maneuvering for effect rather than dishing out raw damage a winning strategy. It makes for fairly cool imagery - the enraged bear smashes an enemy's shield with one claw, swats their sword away with the other, and then bodily smashes them off a cliff edge. Or, wrestling a foe and holding them helpless with one claw, and then mauling them horrible with the other. It's very thematic, but is it just too damned powerful?
-Ben

Nikephoros Phokas
Joined: 2011-10-19 17:02

Not if playing up their size in dungeons. In a 10' corridor another character might not be able to fight alongside them so their wrestle+damage should be compared to two 5th level character first wrestling and then whacking an enemy.
Also, with 3 or 2 characters in front there might be spearmen behind to deal extra damage but it's not possible to stab through a bear.
Outdoors the bear would be very dangerous but that is appropriate imo.

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

I'm checking out the most recent PC revision, particularly the Thrassian Gladiator. I think I may have under-speced the Nordanbjörn.
-B

moorcrys
Patreon SupporterPlayer's Companion ContributorDwimmermount ContributorDomains At War ContributorSinister Stone of Sakkara ContributorLairs And Encounters ContributorBarbarian Conquerors of Kanahu ContributorACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook Contributor
Joined: 2012-02-22 22:34

Under-speced in what way?

Bailywolf
Player's Companion Backer
Joined: 2012-03-07 23:01

The bears get their stuff metered out through their level progression, and I tried to build in some drawbacks to partial compensate for their advantages. But the lizard guys in the PC start with most of the bear's advantages and none of the compensations. If those guys are an example of correct monstrous class building, then I was too cautious with my estimations for the Nordanbjörn.
-Ben

Alex
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

It's always possible I got the Thrassian balance wrong! They were created for a backer so they haven't had playtesting yet.