Ok, the Paladin may actually be a short entry. Like the Barbarian, this is a super straightforward class to play as it has no powers or spells, only talents. Admittedly, some of the talents are really pseudo-powers, but I’m getting used to that at this point. There’s some nice treatment on the handling of alignment, calling out that Paladin’s tend towards law and good, but that’s not a shackle – there’s even a talent specifically for people playing evil Paladins. I actually wished they’d expanded more on this, since as written the Paladin really works as a warrior of an ideal, whatever that ideal might be, but that’s not a complaint so much as a wish for more. Practically, Paladins are more constrained by their armor selection (go heavy or go home) than their alignment.
Interestingly, there’s only one class feature, Smite Evil (which is notably very fuzzy in its definition of evil). I call this interesting because I think of this as a less iconic ability than Laying on Hands (which is available as a talent). It was probably the right choice – making a talent lets a paladin choose if he wants to put on the healer hat rather than have it expected of him – but it caught my eye.
The talents are all pretty straightforward, and include a heal, clerical spellcasting and a taunt, which covers the required bases. I think my only concern is that there are only 8 of them and the Paladin (eventually) gets 5 of them. That’s not a great ratio for diversity, but I suspect it’s also something which can be opened up with further material and hacks.
Chewing on it a bit, I like the open-ended paladin, but it loses something in translation. I wish there was something to give mechanical teeth to the idea that whatever ideal you serve, you really need to stick with it, since that sort of self-imposed limitation is one of the things that makes paladin’s interesting (though the righteous and evil path talents do lean that way). That said, if you call it something other than a paladin and treat it as sort of a flexible champion of [insert cause here] then it probably holds up.
Rangers are also pretty simple (finding it curious that the fighter is more complicated than the Barbarian, Ranger or Paladin – that’s an inversion) as they also have no powers. Notably they also have no class features, just talents. I was surprised that tracking was not a class feature (since that seems like it should be universal) but figured that maybe it was left out since it’s appropriate to a background. I was wrong. There is a tracking feature and it’s…ok. You get a free background of tracker at +5, and a kind of odd stunt, but compared to the other talents it seems to fall a little short.
I’ve got no testing data to back this up, but I’m not sure why it’s not a Feature. This stands out in contrast to the Paladin who is structurally identical to the Ranger (same number of talents, no powers) but who also has a feature and better AC. Maybe the ranger talents are supposed to be just better enough to make up that gap, but I’m skeptical.
Other features cover classic ranger abilities like favored enemies, spell casting, animal companions and two weapon fighting, though I use “traditional” most loosely on that last. My only real disappointment is that the ranger’s archery talent is way crappier than the fighter’s archery talent.
Notably, this also includes the animal companion rules, which are fairly straightforward. Your companion is one level lower than you, which provides baseline stats, which are modified based on the type of animal (Eagles do less damage, Snakes can inflict poison and so on). There are feats for improving your companion, and all in all it seems like a fairly substantial subsystem with a fairly substantial cost and a fairly substantial reward. If you want to be a beastmaster, it’s got you covered, for at least one big critter (and there’s another feature that can get you a small creature using the wizard’s familiar rules, if you really want)
This run of simplicity breaks with the Rogue, whose powers make her look comparable to the fighter at first glance, but who may actually be a little more involved. The first tip is in the Features – the rogue has 3 class features. Two are as expected – sneak attack and trap detection. No shock there. The third is an idea called “momentum”. It’s not a power, but a state: a rogue gains momentum when he hits someone, and loses it when he’s hit. Many rogue powers only work when the rogue has momentum. Some cost momentum to use, others do not.
This looks really interesting on paper, and I’ll be curious to see it in action. It’s a nicely generalized “setup” mechanic, and you usually only see those in magic systems (summon power), but tying it to action can really drive play in a fight, as you have to take into account whether the choice you make will help you get or maintain momentum.
The talents are interesting, in a mixed sense. A lot of them are straightforward – swap INT for CHA for some powers, Be more brutal in combat and so on, but a couple of them stood out as oddballs.
There is a Thievery talent which is very similar to the Ranger one – you get a “Thief” background at +5 (but no extra bonus, aside from the opportunity to buy feats). I admit I’m not sure why this is a talent and Trap Sense is a feature. It feels like the iron fist of the dungeon at work.
Improved Sneak Attack is something I never like seeing because in every game I’ve seen, it’s basically mandatory, since sneak attack damage is so essential to the overall combat effectiveness of the rogue. This does not seem to break the trend.
The “Smooth Talk” talent is fascinating, and I think people will love or hate it. It hangs a lantern on one of the worst abuses of social play and runs with it. Basically, once per day, if you (the player) can persuade the GM (the person) with your line of bullshit, then you have a 50/50 chance of establishing a temporary relationship with an Icon (which cascades into influencing the situation in play). Historically, player persuasiveness trumping mechanics is something of a bugbear in social interaction design, but explicitly creating a mechanical space for that persuasiveness is….kind of neat. I totally want to see it in action more, esp. because I suspect its value varies from table to table.
Similarly, the “Swashbuckle” talent kind of cuts both ways. It lets you expend momentum to narrate doing something awesome, dramatic and swashbuckly. But my instinctive reaction is “Wait, so I can’t do that normally?” The authors are aware of this, and address it a little, asserting that the talent means you often succeed automatically where others might need to make a difficult skill roll. That feels like half an answer to me, especially because most swashbuckling stuff is a more colorful path to the same end, so the interaction with dice is not always clear. But for a table that does not feel it has the freedom to do these kinds of things, the explicit invitation offered by the talent is pretty cool. So, like Smooth Talk, I’m not sure that works equally well at every table.
The actual powers themselves are pretty straightforward, with the only real potential confusion coming if you haven’t fully grokked momentum. They reinforce the basic idea of the rogue as a fast moving, mobile fighter with the potential to get off more attacks. They do an interesting job of keeping the effects interesting (and balanced by the need for momentum) so there’s no automatic decision to drop all low level powers in favor of high level ones.
Ok, 3 down, 2 to go. I’ve been warned that the last, the Wizard, is even more complicated than the Bard, so this should be a fun ride.
- 2 of them are mutually exclusive, and one can be taken multiple times, so the ratio is a little less straightforward than 8:5. ↩
- The hack I’d do? Relationship based talents. That is, talents demanding a relationship with a certain Icon. Want to be a Dragon Knight and buy the Draconic Fury talent? Have to have a relationship with the Wyrm or the Three. Easy peasy. ↩
- Seriously, it made me crazy when rangers became two weapon dudes because of Drizzt. Yes, there are some other examples (but I can cite many more examples of why rangers should be awesome with the bow, and they’re not) but really, it’s Drizzt, who uses two weapons because he’s a Drow. I accept that it is now baked into D&D canon, but still, rage! ↩
- I’ve fiddled with some Fate hacks that work like this, so I have a bias in favor of the idea. ↩