Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Summoner Design Diary, Part 1

Okay Game Fans, we’re going to look at something a little different from our normal fare, and while we’ve talked about World Building in the past, today we’re going to look at something a little different.  As with most things of this type, you can blame the awesome people i interact with on twitter for this.  The discussion arose, what kind of class/concept ideas do you think are missing from 5th edition?  Four or five of us were tweeting back and forth at each other, and the idea came about for a summoner type of class that used extra planar powers to accomplish neat things and cause trouble.  Someone asks the next logical question, how does that work?

Well, i have played a summoner character in other games (Notably Pathfinder, where i played the normal version of the Summoner, not the Unchained one, and had a grand old time.) and the thing that i always came back to with the class was that it was extremely easy to break the action economy.  1 summoner, plus an eidolon (the super awesome summoned minion that everybody got) or summoned monster minions meant that the Summoner could do a LOT of things on his or her turn.  

So I know i want to play an arcane spellcaster who channels the energy of a variety of the Planes of existence, but don’t want to constantly be summoning minions to break the action economy of the game.  So how the hell is that going to work?  I paint myself into these creative corners a lot, but i think i have a solution.  

My rendition of how the summoner’s ability works is that it creates a conduit between the Summoner and some sort of extra-planar creature.  When the conduit opens, the Summoner can channel the energy of that creature, and borrow it’s form and abilities, like a Planar Shape ability similar to how a Druid’s Wild Shape occurs.  

Now i realize at this point in the design process i have a rough idea for a signature ability that i have no idea how it’s going to work, and a vague notion of how the rest of the abilities are going to work around this idea.  So let’s take a look at the rough idea for this core ability is going to work, and how the wrap arounds are going to fit in.  

Core Ability

Planar Shape (1st Level)

So the idea behind this ability is that it allows the Summoner to channel planar energy to assume the form of an extra planar creature.  The two creatures effectively become a single being that merges the skills and abilities of both creatures.  What does that look like then?  How does it work?  Well...let’s take a look at how Wild Shape works for the Druid.  Since this is basically the heart and soul of the class, we’re going to use the Circle of the Moon variant of Wild Shape.  

As an action, you can assume the form of a Celestial, Elemental, or Fiend with a CR of 1 or lower.  You can stay in this form for a number of minutes equal to half your Summoner level (round up).  At the end of this duration, you revert to your normal form unless you expend another use of this ability.  You automatically revert to your normal form if you fall unconscious, drop to 0 hit points, or die.  

So far this looks pretty similar to the way wild shape works, we’ve changed the things you can turn into, the CR available, and the duration.  I’m not overly concerned about disallowing the flying component of the potential things at this level, because the duration is so short.  This may change with playtesting and development

While transformed, the following rules apply:

  1. Your Game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the extra-planar creature you have assumed the form of.  Your Alignment, Personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores are unchanged.  You retain all of your skill and saving throw proficiencies and gain the skill and saving throw proficiencies of the creature you’re assuming the form of.  (If the creature has the same skill proficiency as the Summoner and a higher score in its stat block, use the higher of the two bonuses).  You can’t use the creature’s lair or legendary actions, if they possess any.  
    1. This is pretty much the same way wild shape works.  
  2. When transformed, you assume the creature’s hit points and hit die.  When you return to your normal form, you return to the number of hit points you had when you shifted, unless you shifted as a result of being dropped to 0 hit points.  Excess damage transfers into your normal form.
    1. Just like Wild Shape
  3. You retain the ability to cast spells, but are unable to cast any spells that summon other creatures/energies/things into being.  The conduit that allows you to summon the extra-planar creature you’ve merged with isn’t stable enough to allow you to conjure additional creatures.  Further, you can use the abilities of the creature you’ve assumed the form of.  
    1. Yeah, Wild Shape doesn’t work like that.
  4. You retain all of the benefits of your class abilities while transformed unless they specifically say otherwise. You can use any special senses and methods of communication of the new form, but they replace your existing senses.  
    1. This is basically how Wild Shape works
  5. You can choose to merge your equipment with the new form, or have it drop to the ground around you.  If your new form is capable of manipulating the item, you can use it (the DM has final say about what’s manipulable).  If it’s merged into your body, it doesn’t work for the duration of this ability.  
    1. This is basically how wild shape works, but it’s going to require some adjudication from the DM for most odd situations


So that’s the basics of this particularly interesting core ability, and it’s a rough draft.  I know i’m going to take it apart and rework it.  There are some extraplanar creatures not covered by the list (Looking at you, Modrons) and i need to take a hard look at what creatures this is going to affect and what ones won’t make the list.  I also need to take a look at the other primary feature of this class, Spellcasting, and start constructing a spell list for it.  I’m thinking it’s going to play out something like a Warlock, with only a few spells but lots of ways to improve or power up its spells.  

Once i’ve got the spell casting worked out, i need to decide how Planar Shape is going to work as the Summoner gets more powerful (levels up) and what changes occur in the base ability and what other features could be defined by archetypes and options within the class.  

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