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:
Hit Dice: 1d10 per inflicted level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier per inflicted level after 1st
Armor: Light armor
Weapons: Simple weapons
Saving Throws: Constitution, Wisdom
Skills: Choose two skills from Acrobatics, Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, Stealth, and Survival.
d10 Hit Dice feels right, at the same level as other non-barbarian front-line characters. A part of me is really leaning toward d12 for a truly monstrous feel, but I think other, later features may accomplish that without encroaching on the barbarian’s space. Rare is the monster who tromps about in full plate swinging a sextant, so an inflicted only gets light armor and no tools. The saving throws are Constitution, representing toughness, and Wisdom, representing an inflicted’s somewhat unique ability to maintain their mind in the face of an affliction that would normally change them into an NPC.
The iffiest part here for me is the weapons, and I kind of want to remove weapon proficiency entirely, because of this:
At 1st level, your new physiology gives you an edge in combat. You gain claws, a bite, a horn, or another natural weapon. This weapon deals 1d6 damage. This die changes as you gain inflicted levels, as shown in the Monstrous Weapon column of the Inflicted table.
An inflicted has to have a natural attack, and they have to get it at L1. This is a constant, round-by-round reminder that the character isn’t like other people. Mechanically it’s basically the monk’s unarmed strike, but with significantly less finesse (both figuratively and literally: natural weapons don’t automatically get the finesse property, and an inflicted can’t use Dexterity for natural attacks). The type of weapon is deliberately open-ended. It’s up to the player, not the class, to decide whether their character should have a claw or a gore or a slam. They all work the same way.
At 2nd level, you can let your inner monster out in short bursts without losing yourself. This release is represented by savagery points, which allow you to perform a variety of actions.
You have 2 savagery points, and you gain more as you reach higher levels, as shown in the Savagery Points column of the Inflicted table. You can never have more savagery points than shown on the table for your level. You regain all spent savagery points when you finish a long rest.
When you hit a target with a natural weapon, you can spend savagery points to deal a decisive blow. The maximum number of points you can spend at once equals your Wisdom modifier (minimum of one point). For each point you spend, you deal an extra 1d6 damage of the same type dealt by the attack to the target.
Every feature name is a work in progress and I’m open to suggestions.
Savagery points increase at the same speed as ki points and sorcery points: one per level starting at L2. The intent here is to let the inflicted have brief moments of power without giving them a persistent at-will ability. This first ability, rending strike, represents the giant haymaker attack some monsters have, a truly powerful blow that can turn the tide of battle. The amount of damage is tentative. A druid subclass has a similar ability that grants d10 damage, and doesn’t draw from the same pool as other class features, and also heals people. I think this could stand to be a bit stronger.
We could go through the class features in order, but I think it makes sense to discuss all the other features that use savagery points at once:
At 6th level, whenever you make a saving throw, you can spend 1 savagery point to roll 1d6 and add the die to your saving throw total. You can wait until after you roll the saving throw before deciding to use Savage Vitality, but you must decide before the DM says whether the saving throw succeeds or fails.
At 11th level, you can spend 1 savagery point to gain advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks for one minute.
At 14th level, you can spend 3 savagery points to move your speed as a bonus action. If you use this movement to move at least 10 feet straight toward a target and then hit it with a natural attack on the same turn, you can knock the target prone.
At 20th level, when you roll for initiative and have no savagery points remaining, you regain 4 savagery points.
It’s important to me that this isn’t actually a monster class. This is a person who has become, or is becoming, a monster. When I think of archetypal media characters like this, I think of a certain endurance that keeps them going even after they’ve suffered damage that would kill anybody else. Savage Vitality represents that endurance. Because it draws from a limited resource, an inflicted has to pick and choose which effects it can handle and which warrant that extra push.
Acute Senses is there because I think a Perception ability makes sense for the class, but not so much that I think all inflicted should have it all the time. How monstrous it feels depends on how a player decides it works for them; it might be scent, or the ability to see auras, or a type of Spider-Sense.
I like Pounce thematically, and I like the movement bonus, but I don’t like knocking the target prone. I’m having a hard time coming up with a charge effect that would be interesting to an L14 character. Maybe an extra attack?
At 7th level, you can select one of the following conditions: charmed, frightened, paralyzed, restrained, stunned. You are immune to the chosen condition.
At 13th level, you may select a second condition from the above list or the following list: grappled, petrified, poisoned. You are immune to both conditions.
The wording here is clunky and I want something better.
One of my explicit design intentions is that this class can represent many types of monsters. It is not the class’ job to tell a player that they can only pick from a specific monster list; it is the class’ job to enable the player to be the monster they want. I didn’t want something flat like “all inflicted are immune to being knocked prone” because that just doesn’t make sense for a lot of them. With this, a player can choose the immunities that work with their character, and they can present it as the result of training, gumption, or weird physiology as they wish. It also works with our mechanical concept; each of these conditions could reduce a character’s front-line impact, so now they don’t.
Starting at 9th level, when you score a critical hit with a natural weapon, you can push the target 10 feet or knock it prone.
Hard to Kill
Starting a 10th level, whenever you regain hit points, you regain 1 additional hit point for each die of healing you receive.
Awesome Blow was a feat from the days of 3E. It wasn’t objectively terrible, but it was a real corner case that a monster would want to take a feat with two prerequisites that let them give up their full attack for a chance to push one creature ten feet as a standard action, maybe. This way, we give the inflicted a bit of control that makes their critical hits feel stronger without increasing the damage (which is, again, the barbarian’s space).
Hard to Kill is my attempt at a balanced form of fast healing. The inflicted doesn’t actually regenerate, but if something does grant it healing, it works better than it would for other characters. By this level, when monsters are starting to deal truly ridiculous damage, it can have quite the effect throughout the day.
Astute readers, or those who can count to twenty, have noticed that this is not a full class. Even with ability score improvements at L4, L8, L12, L16, and L19, as normal, there are still some dead levels in this progression. Some of those are subclass powers, which we’ll get into shortly. But there’s one class feature that I thought deserved a post all to itself, and that’s our next topic.
If there’s something you love about these options, something you hate, weird rules interactions you think I haven’t seen, or a great idea for a feature name on the tip of your tongue, please let me know in the comments. This class is open for public critique and commentary, and I’ll consider it all as I put together a beta build at the end of this series of posts.