Animal Henchman classes - feedback appreciated

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LQuinze
Joined: 2015-06-17 19:23
Animal Henchman classes - feedback appreciated

Just some speculative thinking for a campaign I'm in the middle of, where I've got a player with a war-dog henchmen. While there's already rules for monster advancement, the XP curve is pretty punishing for them. Beast Friendship is admittedly pretty potent even with that limitation in mind as you can always "change up" the HD tree by recruiting new animals, but this might be an option for players who want more of a long-term animal companion or perhaps a campaign featuring awakened or sapient animals.

War Dog Class

Hit Die 2 - d8

+1000 XP

Fighting 2 (Fighter)

  • +2 attack throw/3 levels
  • unrestricted weapons and armour
  • two weapon style, weapon/shield, two-handed
  • +1 damage at level 1, and +1/3 levels
  • 1 cleave/level

+1000 XP

Dog 1 - based on Thrassian

  • natural bite 1d6
  • inhumanity -4 humans, +4 dogs/wolves
  • tough hide - AC2 base
  • Speed - base movement 150'
  • character is an animal with all the obvious benefits/drawbacks (can't speak human language, wear ordinary equipment, etc.)

+400 XP

Racial Class BP 5 - Level Limit 12
2400 xp; always doubles after 8th level (as per Thrassian)

Stronghold Type: Elven Fastness (slightly breaking the rules here, but this is probably the best sort of option for a Lion King style animal domain)

Custom Power Tradeoffs

  • weapons to restricted - 4 custom
  • armour to narrow - 2 custom
  • no fighting style - 3 custom

9 custom powers:

  • Savage Resilience - to represent beast resilience
  • Beast Friendship - I'd also restrict animal classes to making henchmen of only other animals
  • Animal Friendship and Attunement to Nature - mainly to fit with fastness
  • Alertness - wild senses
  • Tracking - this is a dog, after all
  • Survival - ditto
  • Naturalism - again, with the theme
  • Wilderness Evasion  - another dog-like ability
  • Avoid Getting Lost - dog senses

The "Dog" racial class is built roughly on the same assumptions as the Thrassian, trading swim speed for move speed and the claw/claw/bite routine for a straight bite weapon, and is capable of wearing a leather harness to improve AC somewhat. The current list represents a "man's best friend" sort of wilderness dog who's adept at tracking and exploration, sort of in the Lassie mold.A hunting dog would convert to this class from level 1, while a war dog would start at level 2

Modifying the custom power list and perhaps the natural attack routine could easily get you to represent a bear or big cat. A big cat like a tiger might get back the Thrassian claw/claw/bite routine and swap utility proficiencies for Ambushing and Difficult to Spot. A bear or boar might trade a number of utility powers for Flesh Runes, giving them greater AC and damage resistance.

Regardless of any other changes, animal cohorts probably should keep Savage Resilience, Beast Friendship, and the combined Animal Friendship/Attunement to Nature abilities as a "core set of abilities" - this lets them function as true retainers going on to lead other war-beasts in the same way a trusted human henchman will probably end up commanding troops.

The Monster entry for war dogs notes they are able to be equipped with leather and spiked collars - this increases their AC and their bite attack respectively; both are still allowed given the armour/equipment restrictions. I leave it to the individual referee's judgement as to what extent magic versions of each may occur in the campaign world.

 Again, this is mostly preliminary thoughts, so any feedback on balance or the like is appreciated (and if my math is correct!).

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

I love it. I think it's a great application of the existing mechanics, and will make for a fun, playable dog henchman.

Side note: As Judge I am virtually heartless when it comes to killing PCs and NPCs but damned if I don't get depressed if I have to kill a dog.

LQuinze
Joined: 2015-06-17 19:23

Thanks for the kind words. The math here is slightly more favourable than monster HD advancement - it gives 3000xp for advancing to HD2, then 6000, then 12000, then so on; whereas this dog class goes 2400, 4800, 9600, and so on. It also formalizes abilities you might expect from an exceptional dog henchman so players have a better expectation of what their animal is capable of. My hope is that the class, while not straightforwardly as strong as a Fighter henchman, is at the very least worth keeping around.

Jard
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Joined: 2012-07-11 23:23

personally, I've always been a fan of goblin punch's Really Good Dog Class

Lucerious
Joined: 2016-08-08 19:51

 

I like it overall. However, I disagree about the use of two things: naturalism and survival.

Part of beast friendship is being able to recognize plants and fauna. Unless you want the "war dog" to be able to find and harvest specific herbs, it seems naturalism would be redundant. 

Survival allows for the character to hunt/gather enough food each day without need to take time out of travel to do so. As an avid watcher of animal planet type shows, I can tell you that dogs in a wilderness setting spend their entire day hunting for food since failure occurs far more often than success.  That said, with the fantasy element of the game combined with the rule stating "fairly fertile area" as a requirement, I think that detail is debatable enough to leave as is without a better solution.  

 

Lucerious
Joined: 2016-08-08 19:51

With further thought, I'd replace naturalism with combat trickery (knockdown). Dogs, especially ones trained for combat, would be good at tripping opponents. 

susan_brindle
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Joined: 2013-06-05 15:49

Did the board ever figure out a way to make Combat Trickery worthwhile, but not overwhelming? I haven't seen it used yet at my table.

Jard
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Did the board ever figure out a way to make Combat Trickery worthwhile, but not overwhelming? I haven't seen it used yet at my table.


-susan_brindle

 

Base proficiency grants +2 to the roll and -2 to the save, so a 10% improvement to the chance of success of the attack throw and a different 10% to the saving throw. main problem is you're still expected to "succeed" on 2 rolls compared to the usual 1 for "I hit it with my axe" for an effect that usually isn't better than doing 1d8+X damage, which might not only kill the foe but also allow you to cleave.

Here are some alternatives I have just thought up and haven't tested at all:

  • Replace +2/-2 with the 5e advantage/disadvantage mechanic (for those unfamiliar: advantage is taking the better of 2d20 and disadvantage is being forced to take the worse of 2d20).  This has generally been used to replace flat +2s in 5e, but typically has a bigger effect except in oddball corner cases.
  • Instead of +2/-2, every time you roll a regular attack, after you see how much you hit by, you can choose to do that combat maneuver instead. this way, you never blow any swings that would have been hits as a normal attack. instead, the trick is an unexpected and pleasant surprise. Of course, the saving throw still represents a risk, maybe you get to see that too and you just do damage if they save.
  • Expanding on point above: if that's still not good enough, let any successful attack be followed by a combat trick or, if that's too powerful, let any successful combat trick be followed by a regular attack.
  • Sweet heroic moves: keep the old +2/-2, but also let the combat trickery user "cleave" and move on to tripping/disarming/etc. more nearby foes.
koewn
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I know ya'll hate it when things that aren't available are mentioned, but the Heroic Companion has a pretty sweet way of enabling combat maneuvers on a more regular basis via (more frequent) critical hit SFX.

Had a 5th level fighter with good to-hit wade into a pack of skeletons and there were skeletons flying out of the pack, crushed up against walls, knocked in to each other, etc. etc. It was entertainingly ultraviolent.

koewn
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L&E would peg a non-sentient dog at 9th level as maximum advancement - really doesn't matter, but it might be an interesting data point to use for custom power tradeoff decisions and whatnot.

2400XP goes to 307,200 XP at 9th; whereas 3000 XP gets to 384000 XP. The former is 80% of the latter; but that's still a lot of XP at henchman rates of advancement, and (in most cases) the dog won't be getting domain XP.

 

That being said (and despite myself being a dog person), Alex's next effort should clearly be

Alleycat, Housecat, Aristocat.

where domain management (once you trick a family into taking you in) is a game of increasing control over one's human retainers.

 

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

Oh my god, animal ACKS would be amazing.

As far as Combat Trickery - great suggestions! What do you think about this as an official revision. "A character with this proficiency can declare that an attack is a special maneuver after the attack throw has been made. In addition, each time the proficiency is selected, the character may select one particular special maneuver as a maneuver of choice. The character suffers only a -2 penalty to attack when using a maneuver of choice, and the target suffers a -2 penalty to his saving throw."

 

Jard
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Joined: 2012-07-11 23:23

Oh my god, animal ACKS would be amazing.

As far as Combat Trickery - great suggestions! What do you think about this as an official revision. "A character with this proficiency can declare that an attack is a special maneuver after the attack throw has been made. In addition, each time the proficiency is selected, the character may select one particular special maneuver as a maneuver of choice. The character suffers only a -2 penalty to attack when using a maneuver of choice, and the target suffers a -2 penalty to his saving throw."

 


-Alex

this seems like the most fair. there is still a little vaguary with the saving throw to come, but it makes it a meaningful player choice of whether to risk the saving throw, and meaningful player choice is something I love to add more of in games and especially combat :-)

Lucerious
Joined: 2016-08-08 19:51

Beware the dog mechanist

https://goo.gl/images/5bmclN

koewn
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Oh my god, animal ACKS would be amazing.


-Alex

Little bit of Watership Down, little bit Secret of Nimh, class creation from Animal Farm because some animals need more XP than others.

:)

 

Jard
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Joined: 2012-07-11 23:23

Little bit of Watership Down, little bit Secret of Nimh, class creation from Animal Farm because some animals need more XP than others.

:)


-koewn

 

Coming to an ACKs forum near you: "How many legs would Wilbur, from Charlotte's Web, walk on?"

LQuinze
Joined: 2015-06-17 19:23

Did the board ever figure out a way to make Combat Trickery worthwhile, but not overwhelming? I haven't seen it used yet at my table.

-susan_brindle

One method I'm playtesting is reworking the entire Combat Maneuvers mechanic to work off straight opposed attack throws (applying the combat maneuver penalty) and comparing the margin by which the player bypasses his attack throw. This makes a high level fighters much more dangerous and reliable at executing combat maneuvers, but of course this comes with the opportunity cost of giving up their attacks (and chances to Cleave) for the round. It also speeds up the rolling somewhat.

I then let each pick of Combat Trickery count for double - a player can use it to reduce a -4 penalty to 0, or two -4 maneuvers to -2 each.

With further thought, I'd replace naturalism with combat trickery (knockdown). Dogs, especially ones trained for combat, would be good at tripping opponents.

-Lucerious

Good point about the redundancy, I might actually consider replacing Naturalism with a custom power Canine Magnetism (analogous to the Fighter Battlefield Prowess). I don't want to front-load the class and by RAW players will get to select a proficiency or two for the dog to begin with, allowing them to customize the type of dog they have. The model is a more generalized dog class that could cover several different types of heroic dogs, rather than specifically a war dog. Regular dogs don't get these abilities or this class - this is Lassie, not a regular dog, in the same way that Conan would be a Fighter rather than a 0th level Man.

Your note about Survival is well-taken, but it's pretty fantastical already that human characters can gather food without taking time out of their travel day. A dog has plenty of advantages in the hunting department as well and if human PCs can pull it off I don't see why a smarter-than-average dog henchman couldn't either.

I also realized I didn't specify a Dog Proficiency List, which again will break the rules slightly:

Dog Proficiencies

Dogs may not take any proficiencies from the General List. Instead, they may spend General proficiencies on items from the class list.

Acrobatics, Ambushing, Blind-Fighting, Canine Leadership (as Command, canines only), Caving, Commanding Bark (treat as Mystic Aura, but canines only), Combat Reflexes, Combat Trickery, Contortionism, Endurance, Land Surveying (no dungeon bonus), Intimidator (as Intimidate, but benefit only applies to nearby human PC when dog is present), Leadership, Naturalism, Pass Without Trace, Running, Seduction, Skirmishing, Swashbuckling, Weapon Focus (teeth), Wild Navigation (as Navigation, but land only), Wakefulness

Let me know if there's anything you think should be on the proficiency list - it's smaller than it should be, but again I feel breaking the rules slightly here still works out. By the Fighter progression dogs will eventually get 8 proficiencies, and select two to begin.

The selection here also works as a good baseline for most other animal types - you might need to change a few proficiencies for aquatic or flying animals (ex. Navigation). Any cool ideas for animal-related proficiencies would also be welcome.

LQuinze
Joined: 2015-06-17 19:23

(in most cases) the dog won't be getting domain XP.

-koewn

I'll have to cross that bridge when/if a player gets there, but I fully intend to allow dogs or other animal characters to become vassals if a player so desires - in which case you'd have a sort of Lion King-esque wilderness preserve of a domain, ruled by a pack of wolves/dogs (or a pride of lions, family of bears, etc. etc.). They'll definitely earn domain XP and the book-keeping will probably be the same behind the scenes, but the output of the domain probably won't be in gp but instead be in some other resource.

susan_brindle
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Joined: 2013-06-05 15:49

Oh my god, animal ACKS would be amazing.

As far as Combat Trickery - great suggestions! What do you think about this as an official revision. "A character with this proficiency can declare that an attack is a special maneuver after the attack throw has been made. In addition, each time the proficiency is selected, the character may select one particular special maneuver as a maneuver of choice. The character suffers only a -2 penalty to attack when using a maneuver of choice, and the target suffers a -2 penalty to his saving throw."


-Alex

I like it! It's good enough that I'd take it, but not so good I'd stop a player for taking it.

Antiquities
Joined: 2013-07-05 19:55

I, for one, look forward to ACKS Redwall.