Creating a Monster: Evolutions

I’ve expressed a lot of love for “here are X options; pick Y of them” features. They weren’t terribly common in 3E and they were absent entirely in 4E, but Pathfinder has a fair number of them, and I used that as an inspiration for my version of the healer class. Powered by the Apocalypse games really showed me how they can branch out, letting one playbook or class work for many characters. 5E is finally catching up, with similar mechanics in the fighter’s maneuvers, the sorcerer’s metamagic, and other places. The most thorough, in my opinion, is the warlock, which offers thirty options and lets a character pick eight of them, sometimes limited by their pact and patron. Of course I was going to borrow from it.

This, I think, is where the inflicted really takes off. The source and form help define a character with broad strokes, but evolutions (name subject to change) give them specific powers that pertain to a specific monster. An undead stalker can take powers that let them float around like a ghost, or hide their undead traits like a vampire, or soldier through combat like a zombie. And none of these monster-type comparisons are hard-coded. Evolutions don’t say “you gain wings, because you’re a were-bat”, they say “you gain a flight speed” and trust the player to explain it. It does mean the player can pull together some goofy combinations, and that’s fine. It’s not the class’ job to present only powers that make sense in any combination; it’s the class’ job to facilitate as many monsters as it reasonably can. Continue reading

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Creating a Monster: Monstrous Source

Yet again, feature names are proving to be the bane of my existence. I have no good idea for what to call the inflicted’s subclass options. Every class has its own name for its subclass, from the cleric’s divine domains and the warlock’s otherworldly patrons to less-inspired examples like the rogue’s roguish archetypes and the ranger’s…ranger archetypes. For the infected, the subclass is the type of monster the character is becoming. But I can’t well call it “the type of monster what done bit me”. For lack of a better term, I’m using “monstrous source”.

A monstrous source has to come in at L1. I can understand going into a subclass later in other classes, where you can follow your career for a while before choosing your route, but that doesn’t work for an inflicted. A character can’t start gaining monster abilities and only later decide what sort of monster they are. It had to be present at the beginning of a character’s career, and it has to have some sort of impact right away, so we need to have an L1 ability. We also need an L2 ability to extend the ways we can use savagery points, much like how clerics and paladins gain new uses for Channel Divinity. We also need an L8 ability that gives the inflicted bonus damage; since inflicted don’t get Extra Attack, they need to remain competitive in melee some other way, and other classes have answered this with bonus damage at or about L8. Besides that, there are very few restrictions on what a source can grant at what level, as long as they’re sufficiently general that a player can decide what works best for them.

With that in mind, I’ve decided on two monstrous sources for this alpha version of the inflicted: the lycanthrope, the creature in D&D most likely to turn an ordinary person into one of them; and the undead, which covers a broad range of possible monsters: Continue reading

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Creating a Monster: Monstrous Form

The features in the last post don’t have a lot of points of divergence. There’s some that matter, like the condition immunities, and some that don’t, like whether an inflicted uses a slam or claws, but it’s still all mostly on a specific path. That’s fine. Not every feature has to provide several options for players, as long as there are enough choices in the class and those choices are sufficiently meaningful.

The first real choice we’re presenting in this series is the one at L3, when an inflicted basically decides what role they fill in the party: Continue reading

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Creating a Monster: Meet the Inflicted

The main problem I’m having in designing a class around monsters is deciding what features the class should have. One nice thing about class design in 5E is that I can give only some features to the class at large and give others to the subclasses, so I can limit certain features to a specific theme. For example, I may not want to let any old PC have a poisonous bite, but I could add it to the Weird Snake-Person subclass. Coming up with ideas that fit a specific theme is fun. Coming up with ideas that literally every monster could use is harder.

There’s one important thing I didn’t discuss in the post on class concept because it fits more nicely here: mechanical concept. That is, where does this class fit within the rules, or within a typical party? As paladins are intended for support and defense more than damage and sorcerers are intended for blasting and control more than tanking, what do I intend for the inflicted? I’ve ended up settling on “tough, physical front-line character”. An inflicted isn’t a magical class, nor is it expected to sit in the back row with a bow, nor should it be the face of the party in high-society negotiations. An individual inflicted can do all that, of course, but those aren’t character archetypes toward which the class is mechanically inclined.

With that in mind, and knowing that we’ll branch out from it further at certain points of divergence, what are the features all monsters get by default? In this in-progress, alpha build of the class, here’s what I’ve come up with: Continue reading

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Creating a Monster: Class Design Basics

5E is ripe for custom, homebrew add-ons. New material is coming out so rarely, it stands to reason that players themselves would feel a need to add the things they want into the system. The DMs Guild gives those players a chance to spread their materials out into the world at large with a bigger platform than any single website or blog could manage. Wizards has practically asked players to make the system their own, and that’s great. It means there’s room for me to add a new class. If there wasn’t room, that probably wouldn’t stop me, but it’s a nice allowance.

I do want to make the best class I can, and that means it has to follow good class design principles. I don’t want something I’ve slapped together on my lunch break; I want something that’s viable, that’s fun to play, that fits within the system but challenges some of its assumptions and provides an experience I can’t get from existing classes. There are plenty of materials out there for guiding a person through class design, and I’ve spent a lot of time in them, and a lot of time working on custom classes, over many years. I’ve found that the most important pieces of a class tend to be the following, in order: Continue reading

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