I have a great love for ‘wonders of the world,’ as interpreted by the creators of fantasy realms. Monoliths constructed in ages past, which survive long after the death of the empire which begat them. I’m not a huge fan of the Song of Ice and Fire books, but that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying this marvelous depiction of the Titan of Braavos, illustrated by Zippo514 on DeviantArt. I think it was a particularly good choice to use the low angle for the piece, emphasizing the scale of the statue much better than other depictions I’ve seen.
Zippo514 is a marvelous artist. His art is the kind which I just can’t get enough of. They’re varied and filled with motion and grandeur, with very few pieces I’d call ‘simple.’ He also has a lot of messy splashes of color in his art, rather than well defined lines. I can’t get enough of that. It looks gorgeous, and lets my imagination really delve into the piece.
I strongly suggest you take a look at Zippo514’s gallery. In particular some of these pieces:
Core Concept: Who, honestly, doesn’t love rangers? They’re the loner badasses that we all role played as back when we were more interested in power fantasies than we were with a challenging game. But unlike our characters who never left the shadowy corner of the bar (save when they were killing people with an impossibly fast, double-bladed sword slice to the throat), rangers are at least a little grounded.
You know, much as I love magic users, I think the classes I find the most personally appealing are the grittier ones. The ones with dirt under their fingernails and callouses on their hands. The fighters, the rangers, the rogues.
Which is funny because I’m a pudgy guy who avoids sunlight, dislikes manual labor, and has frequently been accused of having ‘lady hands.’
Favored Enemy: More than anything else, the favored enemy mechanic defines the ranger class for me. It’s perfectly suited to a fantasy world’s exaggeration of a hunter, and it provides each ranger with an interesting motivation.
It’s also totally xenophobic, but in an awesome way.
Track: Like favored enemy, the ability to track an inherent part of the ranger class. Unfortunately, Pathfinder ties it into the broken skills system, which in turn breaks this ability. And while I think it’s valuable for track to have a failure chance, there’s no need to make it as complicated as the skills system.
I’d prefer something on order of using scaling dice for difficulty. 1d12 for easy, 1d10 for moderately difficult, 1d8 for very difficult, and 1d6 for hard. The GM picks a number within the die’s range, and the player rolls that die. If they land on the number the GM was thinking of, the GM gives them the wrong direction. If they land on any other number, the ranger succeeds. No checking the character sheet for bonuses, or trying to figure out what bonuses apply to which action. Just a single, quick, die roll.
Wild Empathy: Wild Empathy suffers from the same issue that Track does. It’s good that a ranger is able to soothe wild beasts and become friendly with them, it’s a bad thing that this ability must be tied to the broken skills system.
As an idea, assume that reaction is being handled with an oldschool 2d6 reaction roll. If the creature is a wild animal, a ranger may attempt to empathize with the animal, which would call for a second reaction roll, and the better of the two would be used. Starting at 3rd level, the ranger could add 1/3 of their level to the second reaction roll. (+1 at 3rd level, +2 at 6, so on until reaching +6 at level 18).
Combat Style Feat: This one makes me feel conflicted. On the one hand, I’ve reached a point where I honestly don’t like having the player make choices about their build. I’ve found that basically no player I’ve ever played with actually likes it. Most view it as a chore, while only an obsessive few (like me) ever claim to have fun ‘working on their build.’
On the other hand, this is a very simple, very cool choice which must only be made once, and has a dramatic effect on the character’s progress: do you want to be a two-handed fighter, or an archer? It’s also relevant to note that (unlike most character build choices) this decision is not about comparing specific abilities, it’s about defining the type of character you want to play.
With a gun to my head*, I’d say this is a pretty good ability.
*It sounds more interesting than “With a self-imposed deadline to my head.”
Endurance: The feat is well suited to rangers, though it’s stupidly complicated. It gives so many minor and circumstantial bonuses that I doubt anyone ever remembers to use anything other than the ability to sleep in armor without becoming fatigued. Which, to be fair, makes good sense for the ranger.
Favored Terrain: Hands down, one of the best changes made in the switch to Pathfinder. Holy fuck on a fucka-fuck, do I love favored terrain. This is on par with the fighter’s ability to become more proficient in the use of armor.
Hunter’s Bond: There’s not a lot to say about this ability which I haven’t already said before. It’s another ability which asks the player to choose between a pet, or something easier to track than a pet. My response is the same as it was for the Druid and the Paladin: make pets simpler.
To make matters worse, the ranger’s alternative to a pet is essentially the same as the Paladin ability “Aura of Justice,” which I also didn’t like. So that’s just stacking bad on top of bad.
Spells: As I mentioned in the Paladin analysis yesterday, there’s no reason for rangers to have spells. Rangers are men and women of great skill, not of magic. I would even argue that ranger spells diminishes the class, because it implies that all ranger abilities might be somehow bolstered by magic.
Even the most popular modern representation of a ranger, the much-maligned Drizzt Do’Urden, has no magical abilities. And he’s explicitly a ranger within a Dungeons and Dragons game world.
Woodland Stride: Rangers ignore underbrush. This is a good mechanic, no change needed.
Swift Tracker: This ability fails to impress me, but only because it builds on the parts of the tracking ability which I didn’t like. The parts which intersect with the broken skills system. It’s easy to implement into my own system. “If the player moves at their normal speed when tracking, the GM selects two adjacent numbers which would cause failure if rolled. Once a ranger gains the swift tracking ability, this penalty is removed.”
Evasion / Improved Evasion: Holy crap, how many frickin’ classes have this ability? I seriously have nothing to say about it at all. Cut me a break here, Paizo.
Quarry /Improved Quarry: I actually like these abilities. They connect well with other elements of the ranger class, and strengthen the theme of the hunter. But I have one very important question: how do they work? Because they they’re explicitly not magical [they’re marked with (Ex), which means extraordinary ability, which means not magical]
It’s understood how favored enemy works. The character has studied that type of creature, and knows its strengths and weaknesses. But what happens in the space of a standard action (or free action!) which allows the ranger to gain further bonuses against their officially designated Quarry?
Are they noticing a fighting pattern, and a specific way the quarry walks? Is that where they get attack and tracking bonuses from?
Camouflage / Hide in Plain Sight: While these two abilities aren’t really all that similar, I have pretty much the same thing to say about them. They both work sufficiently well, though would be improved by not being tied to the skills system.
Master Hunter: When I first read Pathfinder, I came away with the impression that at level 20, every class gains some manner of ‘instant death’ attack. In re-reading each class for these analyses, I’ve found that impression was more than a little off base. Certainly many classes have a death attack, but many (even most) do not. In fact most capstone abilities are pretty flavorful, and the ranger’s is no different. It’s essentially an instant “knockout” attack, useful if the player wishes to capture rather than kill. I like it!
Core Concept: I like paladins. They’re a weird kind of super-cleric which would be more at home in a noblebright setting than a sword-and-sorcery one. They contribute interestingly to the game as the middle ground between the fighter and the cleric, though they are not completely without their problems. I’ve actually writtenseveral posts with my thoughts on paladins before, though primarily these works have been with regards to the code of conduct.
Detect Evil: I like at will abilities. It would be interesting, as a design goal, for every ability to be an at will ability, except for the casting of spells by spellcasters. Things are much simpler when the player doesn’t need to track their uses in a given day. Aside from that, Detect Evil is a good ability for Paladins to have, though I wonder if it can be too much of a crutch. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a Paladin had to judge good and evil without the benefit of a detection spell?
Then again, this isn’t a game about moral philosophy, so that might not be a good idea, despite being an interesting one.
Smite Evil: Smite Evil is awesome. Despite the large-ish amount of math it requires, it’s surprisingly elegant in its construction. None of the numbers are arbitrary, they’re all drawn from numbers which are already somewhere else on the character’s sheet. Add Cha bonus to attack rolls, paladin level to damage rolls, and Cha bonus again to the Paladin’s AC against the character being smitten. (Smited?)
Also, apparently smite remains active until a creature is dead. Until re-reading the ability just now, I had always thought it only lasted for a single attack.
Divine Grace: While I might normally call something like this a filler ability, this is actually pretty great. Like smite, it doesn’t pull a random number out of thin air, and unlike most similar abilities received by the other classes, it applies to all saves, not a specific save, or (worst of all) a specific type of specific save. Like “will save to resist enchantment” or “fortitude save to resist poison.” No, divine grace boosts all saves.
And since a paladin is a warrior chosen by the gods, it would make sense that the gods are keeping an eye on them.
Lay On Hands: Given that this ability can only be used a number of times per day equal to 1/2 the paladin’s level, I wouldn’t mind if it were a little more potent. Perhaps 1d10 healing every 2 levels, so it kept pace as being able to heal 1/2 of the Paladin’s HP. Or maybe, instead of that, it could be used a number of times per day equal to 1/6 the characters level (minimum 1) but it heals the target up to their full hit points.
Aura of Courage: I like the idea of aura abilities. I think they’re a great idea, and I think the Paladin (as the noble, god-ordained leader type) is a great class to serve as a vehicle for auras. Courage, is a good one, though I think it might be better if those within the Paladin’s aura were actually immune to fear, rather than simply gaining a +4 bonus to fear.
Divine Health: The Paladin’s body is pure because the gods love him or her. Thus the Paladin cannot get disease. Seems like something the gods might have thought to give the rest of us, but it’s cool. I get it. They love their paladins more.
Mercy: Mercies are probably the biggest addition to the Paladin class in Pathfinder. Every few levels, the paladin selects from a list of possible “mercies,” which grows larger as the paladin rises in level. A mercy removes an affliction from the victim, and all mercies are applied anytime the paladin uses their lay on hands ability. The lower level mercies deal primarily with minor ‘status ailments,’ such as staggered, fatigued, or dazed. Higher level mercies remove curses and poison, and can even cure the blind or the paralyzed.
Generally speaking, I don’t like it when the game adds yet more things for the players to choose between. Not only must they choose feats and skills and bonus feats and what have you, but now they need to worry about mercies as well? It’s enough to overwhelm anyone who doesn’t thoroughly enjoy character building.
That being said, I think mercies are a great idea and I’m glad they were included. Perhaps they could be rolled randomly to cut down on the choices characters need to make.
Channel Positive Energy: While I like the change from “Turn Undead” to “Channel Positive Energy” for clerics, I’m less inclined to like it for Paladins. While clerics serve a healing focus as well as a crusading one, paladins are all-crusade-all-the-time. Something like “Turn Evil” which affects evil outsiders and undead might be more apropos.
Spells: As mentioned in the Bard analysis, I don’t like that 7 out of the 11 core classes gain spells at some point. I would not be sorry to see the paladin lose their spellcasting ability, though I wouldn’t go so far as to advocate it. Among the non-primary spellcasting classes, I think Paladins probably have the greatest claim on their spellcasting being appropriate. The bard has music, which should replace magic entirely. The ranger’s magical abilities make almost no sense. But the Paladin is pretty much a cleric / fighter cross class, so it makes sense that they’d have access to a small number of spells.
Divine Bond: This is basically the same issue that I addressed in the Druid class analysis, under nature bond. Pathfinder presents the players with a choice: gain an animal companion, or a cool ability. The choice was created (I think) because companion animals are frustratingly complex to manage, and Paizo wanted to offer an alternative. My solution remains the same as it was for Nature Bond: make companion animals simpler.
Though calling down the spirit of an outsider into your sword is pretty damned cool. I wouldn’t mind if both the mount and the spirit-sword managed to find their way into la
Aura of Resolve, Aura of Righteousness: These are identical to Aura of Courage, except is is for Charm/Compulsion spells instead of Fear. I feel exactly the same about these as I do about Aura of Courage. Also, high level damage reduction is fine, though probably excessive.
Aura of Justice: This doesn’t really feel like a proper aura to me. Giving your allies a special form of attack to use can be interesting, but in my mind an aura should be a consistent effect. Furthermore, as a matter of pure preference, I don’t like the idea of non-paladins being given the ability to smite. Smite is a gift from the gods, entrusted to the paladin to be used wisely. Why would the gods allow the paladin to give it someone unworthy on a whim?
Aura of Faith: Like Justice, this doesn’t really strike me as a proper aura. However, it does seem perfectly reasonable for a Paladin’s attacks to be treated as good aligned. I might have called it something else, but I approve of the mechanics!
Holy Champion: As capstone abilities go in Pathfinder, this one is pretty bad ass. Casting a Banishment spell with a swing of your sword? Fuck yeah.
Code of Conduct: I’ve written on this extensively in the past, and most of what I said remains true to how I feel. To briefly reiterate: I think the Code of Conduct needs to be more clear. There should be no ambiguity about what actions will break a Paladin’s code of conduct; for the sake of the GM as much as for the player. I also think it’s ridiculous for the Paladin to be forced to travel only with good characters. I understand why this is the case, but no class’s abilities should even make the player feel entitled to demand that the rest of the group all act a certain way.
It would be interesting if the code of conduct were modular. Perhaps a list of 10 Paladin Oaths, of which the player must select 3 to keep sacred.
Core Concept:Of the 11 core classes, the monk is the only one which I honestly wish was not part of the game. Which is funny, because in terms of the mechanics, it actually gets a lot of things right which the other classes get wrong. But mechanics aren’t everything. Flavor and style are also important, and in that respect my tastes lean towards the pretentious. Ninjas riding robotic sharks with laser eyes sounds “awesome” in a silly way, but it’s not the kind of thing I enjoy investing my time with. For me, fantasy is the most fun when it’s somewhat grounded, and stylistically consistent.
In every respect, Pathfinder and D&D are stylistically linked to medieval Europe. Every respect, that is, except where the monk class is involved. When weapons or coins are shown in the art, they’re always shown in a western style; save for monk weapons. There are no non-european armor styles present in the core rulebook. No other class which does not descend from a European archetype. Hells, even the word “monk” refers primarily to members of western religious orders, not to highly disciplined martial artists.
The influences of other cultures begin to appear more prominently in supplemental materials. The Bestiary 3 is filled with monsters inspired by Asian mythologies. But that in itself goes towards my point: Paizo filled two bestiaries before they got around to Asia for inspiration.
If the game were multicultural from the start, that would be another thing. If the core rulebook’s classes and equipment and art and magic pulled from cultures all over the world, then I wouldn’t mind the monk so much. Of course, I don’t want to ruin anybody’s good time. D&D originated as a silly game which had no pretentious about how serious it was. And while I think many people feel as I do about the importance of a consistent tone, that’s no reason that others can’t enjoy the monk. But you probably won’t find them in any game I run.
Now, most of the time, I analyze a class’s abilities based on my personal vision of how the class should work. But since I don’t think this class should exist at all, I can’t really do that. Instead I’ll judge each ability by what I think most people want from a monk class. As I mentioned above, I think the class’s mechanics are some of the best in the game. I really have nothing to say about many of these abilities, because they’re good just how they are.
Hopefully the hate-fueled preamble will make up for any blandness in the analysis itself.
(For the record, my hatred of the monk class is actually what originally inspired me to start the Pathfinder Class Analysis series).
AC Bonus: Monks add their wisdom bonus to their armor class because wisdom represents situational awareness, and monks can block swords and arrows with their arms, legs, or by twisting their body to avoid harm. This is a great, elegant mechanic.
Flurry of Blows: A few different monk abilities call for the monk to use their level in place of their base attack bonus. Perhaps I am missing the point, but this seems really confusing for no good reason. Why not simply give the monk a higher base attack bonus? Or let them use the base attack bonus they’ve been given? This is doubly confusing when combined with the fact that the monk receives bonuses and penalties to these abilities on top of having a different base attack bonus.
At level 1, the Monk’s base attack bonus is 0. But when using flurry of blows, they should treat their base attack bonus as though it was equal to their level, so for the purposes of this attack, their BAB is 1. However, the attack is made at a -1/-1 penalty, which negates the improved BAB. Why do I need to do that much math just to find out nothing is different!?
Flurry of blows is a sensible way to represent monk fighting style, but the actual mechanic needs to be simplified dramatically. How about something like “The monk can make a number of attacks per round equal to 1/3 their level, plus 1.”
Bam. Class improved.
Unarmed Strike: This is good and appropriate and I have no problems with it, save those I will address when discussing the Ki pool.
Bonus Feat: I haven’t counted, but off the top of my head I think the Monk has more class abilities than any other class in the game. Was it necessary to add bonus feats on top of that? The reason the fighter class has bonus feats is because fighters are intended as a kind of ‘blank slate’ class, where the players fill in their own fighting style. The monk is quite the opposite; the style has been thoroughly defined already.
Stunning Fist: Part of the fantasy monk schtick are secret punches which can freeze a person in place or make them sick. Stunning fist serves this role well.
Evasion / Improved Evasion: I don’t think I realized just how many classes have these two class abilities before I started this series. It fits here as well as it fits on the rogue or the barbarian. I have no complaints about its inclusion as a monk ability.
Fast Movement: As mentioned in the analysis of the barbarian class, I would actually like to see more movement speed bonuses and penalties in the game. I think it’s one of the most interesting considerations of tactical, grid-based combat. Yet it very rarely comes up after a player selects their race. I’ve never run a game for a high level monk, but I’ve always been a little curious to see how a player would use a movment rate of 90ft per round.
Maneuver Training: Like flurry of blows, this mechanic calls for the monk to use their level in place of their BAB. Like flurry of blows, I ask: why?
Still Mind: This is a filler ability. It’s fiddly and small, and only complicates an already cluttered character sheet. It could be removed, and nothing would be lost.
Ki Pool: I don’t really like tracking “power points” in tabletop RPGs. I don’t like tracking spells that way. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never liked any of the psionic stuff produced for D&D 3.x. It tends to make things more messy, rather than any simpler. Plus, most of the stuff Ki is used for seems silly to me. It can be used to make unarmed strikes magical and law aligned. Why isn’t that simply a default built into the character as it levels up? It can be used for a temporary boost of speed, but the monk already receives huge speed boosts. It can be used to gain a dodge bonus to AC, but isn’t that what the monk’s wisdom bonus to AC is for?
Aside from the basic stuff, the monk later gains a few abilities which use Ki points, but I don’t see why those couldn’t simply have daily uses like most class abilities have. I suppose, given the many abilities the monk has, that it might actually be easier to track points than it would be to track the daily uses of a half dozen class abilities. But meh.
I’m somewhat undecided on whether Ki is good or bad. But I’m not a huge fan of it, either way.
Slow Fall: This allows the player to do a cool thing, rather than simply allowing the player to try a cool thing. It’s a method of game design that I approve of.
High Jump: Instead of a bonus to acrobatics checks made to high jump, think this ability would be much more interesting if it simply allowed monks to jump straight up a number of feet equal to their level. So at level 5 when the ability is acquired, monks can leap 5ft straight up into the air.
Granted, since that’s an acrobatics check of 20, it’s not actually that impressive in Pathfinder. But I hold that’s the fault of the skills system for making high jumps too easy in the first place.
Purity of Body / Diamond Body: As the monk gains greater control of their body, they gain perfect resistance against ailments of the body. Cool cool cool. There’s really only so many ways that I can say an ability is good!
Wholeness of Body: Aside from my stated issues with Ki, I have no problem with the monk being able to heal themselves a small amount. It fits within the ‘mastery of body’ trope.
Abundant Step: While I find this kind of weird and out of place, I don’t neccesarily have a problem with monks gaining access to dimensional door. I imagine it’s meant to combine the idea of moving fast, with the idea of monks having spiritual power.
Diamond Soul: I’d actually like to see spell resistance show up more often in the game, so this ability works for me. Particularly since it fits in with the idea that monks are perfect masters of their own body.
Quivering Palm: “The Death Touch!” is a cliche as old as martial arts fantasy. While I think the concept is kinda schlocky, you can’t really make a fantasy monk class without including it. Particularly when most Pathfinder classes have some kind of instant death ability, though usually they get it at level 20, not level 15.
Timeless Body: As the monk’s supernatural control of the body grows, it is only logical that they would begin to slow the effect that time has on them. This fits particularly well with the classic trope of the super old martial arts master who can beat the crap out of anyone.
Tongue of the Sun and Moon: Presumably, based on the description, this ability allows the character to speak with anyone, regardless of what language they speak, or whether they can speak language at all. I don’t really see what this has to do with monks, but I also have no real problem with it. It’s an interesting ability which will have minimal impact on the game since it doesn’t show up until level 17.
Empty Body: Again, this ability works decently well for the monk. The ability to enter into an ethereal state for a short while is in keeping with the idea that the monk gains a supernatural control over their own body.
Perfect Self: This is a respectable capstone ability. The central idea of a monk’s training is perfection of the body, so to perfect one’s body to the point of being considered a lawful outsider is pretty cool.
Ex-Monks: Is it just me, or is it strange that there are a half dozen variants for evil paladins, but no such variant for chaotic monk? That seems like a huge oversight to me. A monk who breaks the law and loses the respect of their peers could become a Chaos Monk, with an entirely different philosophy and set of mystical abilities.
Somewhere, perhaps beneath the false bottom of a mysterious sarcophagus, the adventurers discover a twisting staircase. It’s width of 7ft would seem safe, if not for the dizzying drop to the ground below, and the complete lack of a railing. The steps are broad, and wind lazily around the edge of the massive cylindrical chamber. The outside edge of the staircase, where it drops off into open air, has become strangely worn. The stone slopes downward sharply, almost as though the stone had been eroded by decades of flowing water. The rest of the stairs show no sign of such wear, only the edge.
In the center of the chamber is a tall pillar which rises roughly half as high as the staircase does. Atop the pillar is a statue of a man, twice life sized. He is depicted as emaciated, starving, and in great pain. His arms are spread wide as if beseeching the gods to end his suffering, and his head is tilted back in a silent, eternal moan. At his feet is a stone feast: a roast bird, a cask of wine, numerous styles of fruit and fish which are so masterfully carved that they actually look appetizing. Like the stairway, the outside edge of the pillar is worn around the edges, sloping sharply down in a way which appears as though it might be erosion.
If the players position themselves on the stairs so they can look within the statue’s mouth, they will be able to see a glint of gold. Closer inspection will reveal that the statue has a tongue of gold within its mouth.
If an amount of gold equal to at least one gold piece is placed within the statues mouth, it will immediately melt and fuse with the golden tongue. When this happens, a click will be heard from the stone bird. If the players pull on the roast bird’s leg after they feed the statue, they will find that it twists off, revealing the fowl to be hollow. Within are are twenty brilliantly green emeralds, each worth no less than 50 gold pieces.
Unfortunately, the tasks of feeding the starving statue and reaching its pillar, are not so simple. The room is under a strange enchantment. With the exception of the stairs and the pillar of the starving statue, the chamber is affected by ten times the normal force of gravity. Any item tossed or held over the edge of the stairs will suddenly become ten times heavier, and any character who falls from the stairs will suffer damage as though they had fallen ten times further than they had. (ex. In Pathfinder every 10ft fallen results in 1d6 damage, thus in this room, 10ft fallen would result in 10d6 damage). Note that the floor at the base of the chamber is not affected by this enchantment, and characters can walk on the floor there normally.
Old Dungeons and Dragons modules are a great source for interesting art. And while I haven’t been exposed to a lot of them, the cover of The Endless Stair by Ed Greenwood is easily my favorite. The art is by a fellow named Jack Fred, who I’d not heard of before, and who I can’t find any information about. If you know something, let me know so proper credit can be given!
I’ll be the first to admit that the ladies depicted here are stupidly sexualized. If it was just the magic user I could maybe give it a pass, but the thief on the left is simply preposterous. Normally I would pass on a piece of art that has this level of ‘cheesecake’ bullshit in it. But I just fucking love everything else about it.
First, the piece has that great “every-adventurer” thing going on. These characters are nobody you know, and yet they’re every character you’ve ever played. You can put yourself into their shoes instantly. Second, the two men are beautifully equipped. Their gear is mundane and worn. More brightly colored art with cleaner lines is never able to look quite so real as this. Plus you have to love the 1970s style hair.
I also love the poses. Even the women have pretty great poses here, but my favorite is the dark haired man in the center. He’s drawn midway through pulling his axe from his belt, and that’s something you so rarely see in fantasy art. It doesn’t look ‘cool,’ or ‘badass,’ and because of that it seems more real, and thus draws me into the scene all the more.
And on top of all that, there’s the environment. I’m a native of the pacific northwest of the U.S., and this is exactly what this area looks like. The trees and the mountains and the sky and the grass all evoke memories of camping trips I’ve taken. It’s glorious.
I do apologize for the quality of the image. The only ones I could find online were very low resolution, so I opted to scan my own copy of the module instead. Unfortunately it has some minor damage which obscures some of the art.