Pathfinder Class Analysis 13: Cavalier

Pathfinder's Iconic Cavalier
The Iconic Cavalier from the Advanced Player’s Guide

Core Concept: The Cavalier seems an odd class to me, because I don’t really see the type of person described here as ever pursuing a life of adventure. They’re knights in a king’s court or elite soldiers within an army. What on earth would drive them beneath the earth searching for treasure? I suppose Pathfinder is designed in such a way as to make political or military campaigns an option, but none the less the cavalier is a little out of place. Though that doesn’t mean they don’t have some cool stuff about them.

II should point out that the Cavalier has a long history with D&D. Gygax originally created the class back in 1983, several years before I was born. Unlike many other such classes, though, I know absolutely nothing about the historical cavalier. I considered reading up on the class’s origins before making any assessments about this modern iteration of the class. However, it occurred to me that I have a unique opportunity to examine the Pathfinder cavalier without the bias of historical context, so I chose to maintain my ignorance until I have recorded my thoughts.

I would also like to point out that this is a class with no spellcasting ability. This makes me happy. Game designers too often resort to spells as a way of making supplemental classes interesting. In fact, out of the six new base classes introduced in the Advanced Player’s Guide, the cavalier is the only one without spells.

Challenge: I like challenge. It’s similar to a Paladin‘s smite ability, with some interesting quirks such as a penalty to AC against foes other than the one who has been challenged, because the cavalier’s focus is so intense. As one of the class’s core abilities, it is respectably flavorful and isn’t too complicated. I even like the way in which many of the cavalier orders modify it.

Mount: I have little of interest to say regarding the mount. At least little which isn’t better suited to being said about the “charge” mechanics below. I will point out that the class doesn’t have any alternative here. Every class in the core rulebook which has the ability to acquire an animal companion also has the option to replace their companion with some other ability. I’ve speculated in the past that this was due to the extreme complexity involved with maintaining the mount’s character sheet.

My guess would be that the mount is simply too essential to the workings of the cavalier class, meaning any alternative would be a severe detriment to the class.

Order: A cavalier’s order is a little bit like a Paladin’s oath crossed with a Sorcerer‘s bloodline. It provides the Cavalier with a customized benefits package (class skills, modifications to the challenge ability, and special abilities gained every few levels) at the cost of requiring the cavalier to adhere to a certain set of principals, or ‘edicts.’

Were it up to me, I think I would simplify the orders significantly, but as it stands I didn’t come across anything egregiously bad in any of the available Orders. And as mentioned above, the way in which they modify the challenge ability can be interesting. The paladin would benefit from something like this, actually, rather than its somewhat vague “do no evil, always do good” code of conduct.

Tactician / Greater Tactician / Master Tactician: I’m not a big fan of “Teamwork Feats.” For those who don’t know, they’re essentially feats which two players must take, which allow them to work together to achieve certain results. Most of these feats are actually pretty solid and neatly avoid my oft-cited problem with feats. My issue is that they require two players to both take the feat in order to gain any benefit from it. But what happens when the other guy who took the feat can’t make it to games anymore? Now the feat is useless unless another player can be convinced to take it.

Abilities which rely on other players are, in my opinion, a bad design choice.

With the tactics abilities, the cavalier can grant his teamwork feats to other characters. My only complaint about this is that the cavalier has to wait until “Master Tactician” before teamwork feats not gained through tactician bonus feats can be used with the tactician ability. It’s so confusing that I can barely understand my own explanation of it!

Cavalier’s Charge / Mighty Charge / Supreme Charge: The charge abilities, and their prominence in the way the cavalier develops, is likely why the cavalier doesn’t have the option to select another ability instead of getting a mount. But this begs the question: how often will the cavalier really have the opportunity to make a mounted charge?

This goes back to the misgivings I wrote about when discussing the class’s core concept. My players have spent all of their last two sessions in a dungeon where a cavalry charge would be pretty difficult to pull off. And while I know not everybody runs as many dungeons as I do, it seems strange to design a class which almost precludes dungeon play. I would feel bad if I had a cavalier in my current adventuring party, since they would often be forced to leave their mount behind.

Expert Trainer: For a class with such a heavy investment in mounted combat, it seems obvious that they would be exceptional mount trainers. A nice touch.

Banner / Greater Banner: The banner abilities are all about improving the morale of your companions. These, (and the tactics abilities, come to think of it) suggest to me that the cavalier would function best in a game which was more liberal about hirelings than Pathfinder is. As it stands I would think that any cavalier would be wise to pick up the Leadership feat as soon as possible.

I’ll also point out that abilities like “wave your banner and improve the morale of your allies” always seem ridiculous to me, if those allies are actual players rather than NPCs.

Bonus Feat: Oh, boo! I hate it when a class has a few random bonus feats tossed in just to keep it from having any dead levels.

Demanding Challenge: I’m not sure how I feel about the idea that an NPC can actually be forced to focus its attention on a given character. As a GM, I would not like to run a game where the players were able to force their enemies to act in certain ways.

When Ginny Bo Fails a Morale Check

Ginny Bo drawn by Gus L.A few months back, in Vaults of Pahvelorn, my character Eriara’s apprentice died. It was really too bad, he’d shown a great deal of promise (took out an entire flock of pegasi)! but ultimately succumbed to one of the most ancient sources of character death: a large rolling stone. We weren’t even able to recover his hat.

I told the mighty Brendan that Eriara would like to search for a new apprentice. As she’s only 12 herself, I noted that I’d very much prefer a young apprentice. Someone who wouldn’t have any problems taking orders from a child. Brendan did some rolling, and informed me that the only hireling available was an 86 year old man.

I was…annoyed.

I wasn’t upset or even really frustrated, mind you, but annoyed. I had gotten the exact opposite of what I wanted, and since magical healing in Pahvelorn has a small chance to age your character by 1 year, this 86 year old bastard may well die of old age. I understand that in this form of play, we give dice the power to tell us how the world exists. Sometimes it doesn’t exist in a way which is advantageous to us. I embrace that, but it doesn’t mean I’m always happy about what I get.

I took him, because he was the best I could get. I dubbed “Ginny Bo” because it sounded ridiculous and I wanted to make this imaginary person feel bad about being my only option. I didn’t train him as a magic user. I intended to use him merely as a torch bearer until we got back to our home town where I could search for a proper hireling. But then something started happening.

I don’t remember if it was Brendan, or I, or someone else who said it. But it was agreed that Ginny Bo had lived a long and boring life. That he regretted not being more adventurous in his youth. He had decided to jam all of the life he could manage into his last years. This was convenient for me, since I kinda wanted him to die. Using this as justification, I sent him into all manner of dangerous scrapes. And even though he was rarely effective, he somehow managed to end up alive at the end of every session. I began to inject more personality in the character for shits and giggles. Before I started to like him, the rest of the party already loved him. That proved infectious because soon enough, I loved him too.

His adventures at this point are too numerous to recount, but you’ll find hints of them in the ever-lengthening titles he’s given to himself: Ginny Bo of the Devil’s Helm. Wielder of the Black Sword Obynig, called “Butter Steel.” The Giantslayer. The sludgifier of the Great Worm.

All of that is my long, rambling way of leading up to my problem: morale checks. In OD&D, when a player character tells a hireling to do something which places them in particular danger, the GM makes a die roll to determine whether that hireling will obey, or flee. The mechanic is important, because it prevents the player from having a bunch of entirely expendable pawns they can order about without repercussions. But it doesn’t work for Ginny Bo.

The crazy things Ginny Bo does aren’t done because Eriara orders him to do them. He does these crazy things because he’s a glory hound eager to make his mark on the world before he dies. If he were ever to fail a morale check (which he hasn’t yet) and flee from danger, it would break the wonderful illusion of his character which has amused us all so very much. Yet as a GM myself, I wouldn’t ask Brendan to exempt Ginny Bo from the rules for role playing reasons. That’s just not how I like to play.

Fortunately, I came up with a better idea. Last week I got permission from Brendan to draft a random chart. One which will serve as an alternative to mere flight in the event that Ginny Bo ever does fail a morale check. The idea is that while Ginny Bo will never flee from danger, he might become so wrapped up in the adventure that he acts to the detriment of himself or the party.

Here is the chart, as I’ve drafted it. A 1d6 should be rolled in out-of-combat situations (such as dungeon exploration), whereas a 1d12 should be rolled in combat.

  1. Ginny Bo begins to monologue. He rants about his greatness and his achievements.
  2. He opens the nearest door and charges through it heedless of the danger, or charges deeper into the most dangerous looking part of the wilderness.
  3. He attempts an overly complicated maneuver and throws out his back. For the next 3 turns he can’t do much more than walk around and carry a few things.
  4. Ginny Bo realizes HE ought to be the party leader! He begins barking orders at the rest of the party. All of his ideas are terrible.
  5. Falls asleep, probably standing up. He is very old, you know.
  6. Regardless of any need for stealth, he shouts his name and attempts whatever task he was given recklessly. He will probably fail spectacularly.
  7. Ginny Bo drops his weapon and headbutts the nearest enemy. (Probably while wearing the Devil Helm).
  8. He puffs out his chest and taunts enemies. Possibly offering them a “free shot.”
  9. Attempts to perform a Karate-Kid style leg sweep. There is absolutely no power behind it, and he looks like quite a fool impotently kicking at his opponent’s legs.*
  10. Tries to twirl his weapons around in a fancy display of swordsmanship. Drops his weapon.
  11. Tosses aside any armor which can be easily removed and declares “I can take ye’ naked!”
  12. Attempts to tackle opponent and wrestle them on the floor. Regardless of the opponent’s size.

*This may or may not be based on an actual childhood experience.

Deadly Dungeons 18: The Steel Beast Throne Room

TheSteelBeastThroneRoomNote: This room is near the entrance of Castle Nalew, a central adventuring location in my monthly ToKiMo campaign. While the players have been through this room, they have not yet discovered all of its secrets. I would advise not reading this post if you play in that campaign.

Note 2: One of this room’s features was re-used in the The Midas Chest room. I prefer not to post a room with the same element twice, but here it is not central to the room’s challenge.

The room is massive, with a high arched ceiling and numerous steel doors around its edge. It is heavily dilapidated, with weeds growing through the cracks on the floor, bits of rubble on the ground, and even a few small holes in the ceiling where dirt, light, or rain can filter through. In the room’s center is a shallow pool of water. At one time this was obviously a rather elegant water feature, but now the water is stagnant and fills the room with a putrid stench. Characters will not be able to see the bottom simply by looking in, but the water is in fact only about 1ft deep.

The western wall is almost entirely dominated by a massively wide archway, around which is carved an elaborate depiction of a spiritual battle. An army of celestials charge from the northern end of the arch, while an army of devils charge from the southern end. The armies rise up the wall, and across the arch, meeting in the middle with brutally gory results depicted masterfully in stone. If characters choose to investigate the artwork on this arch more thoroughly, they may notice that there is a small demon, far from the front ranks, depicted as dying. Closer examination of this demon will reveal that the gash from which he is bleeding is in fact an actual slit in the stone wall, just large enough to fit the tip of a dagger into. Doing so will open a secret door within the room. (On the map above it is placed between the throne and the lion statue, but it might be placed anywhere.)

Directly above the archway is a stylized stone scroll, upon which has been carved the following words:

“Atop the world I stand, beneath the world I will lie. Home will always find me.”

In the east of the room is a large brass half-sphere, the apex of which rises to about 5ft off of the ground. It has been expertly crafted to demonstrate the continents, oceans, and even rivers and forests, of the known world. Fused to the top of the world is a heavy chair, also of brass. The chair has been cracked and several pieces of it hang askew, but despite being mangled, it appears to be intact. There are no chunks of brass on the ground, and it seems as though some bending would get the chair back in shape–though it is not so broken that it cannot be sat in without fixing it. Under the edge of the chair is a switch. If toggled, this will release 3 of the chair’s legs from their mounting on the half-sphere, allowing the chair to swivel around on the rotating fourth leg. This will reveal a small alcove, within which is a platinum facemask with three pieces of obsidian mounted under each eye. The pieces has no lips or mouth, and is worth 2,000gp as an art piece.

Elsewhere in the dungeon/castle/world, the players may learn that this are was built by an ancient king named Barj Volik, who was born far away on Stonespear Isle. These islands are well known, and can be found on any sufficiently detailed map of the world. If the players examine the brass world-sphere, searching for Stonespear Isle, they will find it easily enough. If the island is pressed, then seams will appear in several of the world’s larger rivers, and the brass will slide away, revealing a staircase into the tomb of Barj Folik.

Finally, there are four strange statues in this room. They are made to vaguely resemble a bear, a bull, a lion, and a gorilla. However, rather than depicting these creatures as they would appear in the wild, these steel statues instead depict what those creatures would look like if they were outfitted in full-plate armor. If any character sits in the throne atop the world, these four creatures will become animated. The sitting player may then attempt a save versus magic (or will save DC 25). If they succeed, then the creatures will obey them for 1d6+1 days. (after which another save must be made). If the save is failed, the statues will attack immediately and without mercy.

Picture Thursday 25: Statue of Charlemagne, a statue at Grossmünster


EDIT: Apparently this post was mistakenly scheduled to go up at 11pm tonight, rather than 7am when it normally should. Sorry about that!

First, just thought I’d point out that Picture Thursday 25 is on April 25. That’ll probably never happen again. I’ll be damned. It’ll happen on May 30th. That’ll be the last time, though!

If you’ve been reading my recent Deadly Dungeons post, it may have become apparent that I have a thing for statues. While painting and music are artforms which remain strong even today, to my knowledge there’s not a lot of traditional sculpting artists. It doesn’t really fit with the modern world. Who can afford giant blocks of stone? Once finished, how will it be moved? Where will it be placed? The practice of this art form hasn’t completely vanished from the earth, but in my mind statues are most at home in a land of swords and warfare. They speak to me of adventure.

This particular piece, the sculptor of which I have been unable to determine, is of particular interest to me. The photograph was taken Le Monde1. The only other photograph I’ve found shows the statue mounted on the outer walls of Grossmunster cathedral. It depicts Charlemagne with some seriously odd proportions, and bearing a crown and sword which–honestly–look kind chincy  in contrast with the stone.

A statue like this one would not normally draw my attention. Dude sitting with a sword on his lap doesn’t interest me. But the discongruity of the proportions and the cheap-looking accessories has left me staring at it for the last 10 minutes.

Deadly Dungeons 17: The Battlefield Execution

Battlefield ExecutionThere is only one way in or out of this room, which is largely empty. The walls splay outward, causing the room to widen further from the entrance. The back wall of the room is a gentle curve, upon which has been painted a detailed mural which has become chipped and faded with age, but not so much as to make the its subjects unclear.

The mural depicts a large army of of hardened warriors stretching halfway to the horizon. The figure’s shadows are long, indicating that the scene is either early morning, or late evening. Rather than doing battle or raising their voices in a cry of war, the fighters are depicted as bloody and beaten. Some even lie dead on the ground amongst their fellows. Their faces are forlorn, and every one of them faces out of the painting, with eyes downcast. Several standards blowing in the wind depict a black cloven hoof wrapped in green thorns, on a red field.

In front of the mural is a kneeling statue of a man who appears similar to the warriors behind him. Like his bretheren, his eyes are downcast. With both hands he grips the blade of a sword with the hilt held out in a deferential gesture. The statue has clearly been painted to match the mural, but like the mural much of the paint has been chipped away. In addition, the statue appears to have been brutalized. Chips and slices cover its surface. It appears as though someone brutally attacked the statue with a sword or axe. Closer inspection will reveal that some of these cuts have undisturbed red paint in them, indicating that these marks are intentional.

The nature of the sword being offered is up to the individual GM. For my use, it is a magical artifact sword of great power. If that were not to your liking, however, it can merely be a sword of great artistic and historical value. Regardless of the sword’s exact nature, though, it is a marvelous and tantalizing treasure to behold. The blade is of unblemished mithril. The crossguard is styled to resemble a lion, and the hilt itself is carved with depictions of 6 spearmen thrusting their weapons up into the lion’s belly. These carvings are heavily stylized, and beautiful in their simplicity.

However, the sword will not budge from the statue’s hands. What’s worse, powerful magics ward the statue against being smashed. The magic which holds the blade in place is also powerful, and cannot be affected by spells designed to loosen or release an object. Furthermore, these wards cannot be dispelled, though they might be overcome by a wish or similarly powerful effect.

The key to this puzzle is knowledge of a battle which occurred 300 years ago. Any characters with knowledge of warfare, history, or nobility will have heard of it. A sage will be able to offer information about it if they are given some relevant information about the scene depicted. Additionally, a room not far from this one in the dungeon should contain a history book detailing the battle and its aftermath.

It was called The Battle of Braeon Ridge. The combatants where the House of Krephis (or noble house relevant to your world), and the unstoppable armies of Fulnaf Thornfoot. It was a monstrous battle which lasted days and killed thousands. At its end, Fulnaf Thornfoot was killed, leaving his father to surrender to the conquering Krephis. Famously, while Fulnaf’s father offered the conquering leader his son’s sword, the patriarch of House Krephis (who had lost his own son in the battle) reached down from his horse and buried a dagger in the back of the old man’s neck. House Krephis rose from being only a minor noble house to being one of the more powerful families that existed at the time.

If the players take a dagger and begin pressing it against the areas where the stone has been cut on the back of the statue’s neck, they will discover that one of these slices was illusory. It in fact hid a large slot, which the dagger fits into nicely. Once the dagger is planted in the back of the statue’s neck, the sword will slide freely from his hands.

Note that the illusion covering the dagger slot is not warded as the statue’s other protective magics are. It can be discovered, and dispelled, by normal means.

Deadly Dungeons 16: Gold Egg Lure

Gold Egg Lure MapThis natural chamber contains several wide, shallow pits. Perhaps 1ft deep and between 6 and 15ft across. Each pit holds several eggs of brilliant, sparkling gold. Each egg has a beautiful swirling pattern, and some even have speckles which appear to be tiny pearls. The beauty of these artifacts is all the more profound because they do not appear to be a work of craft, but a work of nature. The intricate details of each entirely unique egg could be studied for hours.

The empty space in each pit is filled with a dark, foul-smelling mash of organic material. This is packed around the eggs, holding them upright. No egg is closer than 1ft from any edge of the pit, or any other egg in the pit. It is a simple matter to identify the mash as the rotting meat of dead creature. Anyone with basic knowledge of nature will be able to deduce that this was probably done to insulate the eggs before they hatch, and provide food for whatever young emerge from them after. A close, detailed inspection of the mash will reveal that while most of it is of unrecognizable origin, there are several distinct humanoid parts included in the mash, such as fingers.

Also within this room are several small alcoves. The entrances to these alcoves are placed above eye level, between 7 and 10 feet off the ground. They are small, and well hidden amongst the natural flow of the stone walls. They will not be noticed unless the players specifically declare that they are looking at higher areas of the cavern wall with their torches. Simply walking the perimeter of the room would be insufficient.

Within these alcoves rest the parents of the eggs. Between 3 and 8 of them. The specific manner of this creature is left to GM discretion, as this is not a Merciless Monsters post. However, for my purposes, I chose a special breed of giant spider with the following attributes in addition to the basic ones:

  • Spins web which is razor sharp, rather than sticky. It prefers to consume chunks of bleeding meat, rather than drain its victim’s innards.
  • Mandibles which become superheated and can easily smelt metal or stone. This is both how it escapes from a golden egg in its youth, and how it creates this specific environment from sheer stone when it is time to mate.
  • Preys particularly on humanoid species.
  • Evolved eggs which avaricious humans would find too tempting not to try and steal.

Whatever creature is used, some sign of its presence should exist. Perhaps tangled strands of razorweb bunched up at the door, which a perceptive player might notice glinting in the torchlight.

While characters are distracted by the eggs, the creatures will move in to kill them. In the example of the razorweb spiders, they will spin a web across the cavern’s only exit, causing anyone who leaves to fall into bloody chunks. If the players set a watch while examining the eggs, that watch should notice the spider’s efforts and alert the rest of the party. Unless this or other precautions are taken, however, it is likely that at least one player will die here. Bear that in mind before making use of this room.

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