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:

At 3rd level, your monstrous form begins to take shape. You gain one of the following features of your choice.

FORM OF THE BRUTE
When you aren’t wearing armor, your AC equals 13 + your Dexterity modifier. Also, select one of the following energy types: acid, cold, fire, lightning, necrotic, poison, psychic, and radiant. You have resistance to damage of the chosen type.

FORM OF THE PREDATOR
You gain a second monstrous weapon, which uses the same damage die as your initial natural weapon. You can use a bonus action to attack with this weapon. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of this weapon, unless that modifier is negative. Both of your monstrous weapons gain the light property.

FORM OF THE STALKER
You can take a bonus action on each of your turns in combat. This action can be used only to take the Disengage or Hide action. Also, select one of the following movement modes: burrow, climb, swim. You gain that movement mode at the same speed as your walking speed. If you select a swim speed, you can breathe underwater.

I will not pretend for a second that this wasn’t inspired by the warlock’s Pact Boon. As far as I’m concerned, all classes should have something like this, and the fact that they don’t is a travesty.

Now that I know more about D&D 4E, how it works, and how it doesn’t work, there isn’t a lot I don’t like about it. But one of the things that irks me to this day is its tightly-contained view of what a class should be. In 4E, a cleric is a leader. This means they have healing powers and powers that buff or support allies. If you want to play a damage-dealing cleric, too bad. Play an avenger instead. If you want to play a defender cleric, too bad. Play a paladin instead. If you want to play a controller cleric, too bad. Play an inquisitor instead. The magic of reskinning can make classes look and feel like each other, but that’s not what the game was designed to do. The intent and expectation was that all players who want to be a cleric also want to be a leader and nothing else.

This works the same way in reverse: if you want to deal damage, you must want to play one of the available striker classes. None of those classes use Intelligence as their primary attack score. There are no Intelligence-based strikers and there never will be. Similarly, there is only one Dex-based defender (certain builds of the fighter) and only one Dex-based controller (the hunter version of the ranger). If you want to play a Dex-based character, the intent and expectation is that you almost certainly want to be a striker.

This design theory isn’t as strong in 5E, but it’s still there. There are no healing fighters. There are no ranged or finesse-based barbarians. There are no front-line wizards. The rules just aren’t there for classes to break out of their intended comfort zone. Those rules could exist! Later books include subclasses that extend the classes outside their original concept, some more than others. But the fact is that the classes were not designed with this in mind, and they needed those extensions before they were really usable outside their narrow game space.

Except, of course, the warlock. The warlock’s Pact Boon is an archetype for a feature every class should have. It’s the class saying “I can look like a fighter, or a wizard, or, like, a weird summoner thing.” It’s the game asking the player what they want instead of telling them what to want. So of course something like the Pact Boon made its way into the inflicted. I couldn’t very well leave it out, not when it’s so good at doing the job I want.

For a single power, this (as yet unnamed) class features does a lot of work. It’s basically asking the player whether they want the character to focus on defense, damage, or mobility. Note that this is independent of the subclass; you can have a brute of any monster type and it won’t limit you in any meaningful way. It also lays the groundwork for further extensions, which we’ll discuss in a future post. Ideally I’d like this at L1, but it’s at L3 for two reasons. First, the inflicted chooses their subclass and gets a natural weapon at L1, and they get savagery points at L2, so holding this until L3 made the most sense from a game balance perspective. But it also works in-character, because this is the point at which monster powers manifest in a way that changes what the character does. Before now they were a normal person with some neat tricks. Now those tricks are really coming to the forefront, and they probably come along with some meaningful physical effects.

First, the brute. I like natural armor so much I almost made it a core part of the class, and I still might. In that case the brute would get an enhanced version, like 15 + Dexterity. It seems high, and it is, but Dexterity is something like the inflicted’s tertiary ability score after Strength and Constitution or Wisdom (or both). I’ve also thought about going with 10 + Con + Dex, like the barbarian, or maybe even 10 + (choice of Wis or Con) + Dex to fit different monsters. The point is, I like having natural armor but the exact amount is still in flux. Damage resistance is something I originally had in subclasses, but putting it here makes it more available and gives the inflicted a unique defense ability.

Yes, “brute” is probably not the best term for “defender” or “tank”. I’m not thrilled with it either, but I had to pick something, and it kind of fits with the idea that the inflicted barrels into attacks and shrugs them off.

Second, the predator. This is the weirdest rules space for me. I had to do a lot of research into how attacks in 5E actually work versus how I remember attacks working in previous editions. In particular I had to learn that natural attacks are not automatically light weapons, so they do not inherently qualify for two-weapon fighting. The predator’s attacks do, so the inflicted can attack with claws and a bite, or two claws, or a slam and hooves, or whatever. This is the pure damage-per-second option, and more attacks mean more chances to use Rending Strikes or score a critical hit. It’s not as many attacks as a monk gets, but it’s more than any other inflicted and more than any character who doesn’t get the Extra Attack feature or go into two-weapon fighting.

Third, the stalker. This is the sneaky option, for characters who don’t want to just apply their foot to enemies until the problem goes away. It gives rogue-like options for avoiding melee combat, and it adds a movement mode for the characters who want it. I see this for players who prefer to go about things more creatively, looking for ways around fights or traps or awkward social situations. Still, I’m wondering if it’s enough. Is this an option players will choose because they want to play this sort of character more than a tank or damage-dealer, or because they feel they feel they have to accept a less-powerful option to get the monster they want? That’s more an open question for readers and, eventually, playtesters.

These features never grow in power. There’s no L15 version of the predator that grants a third attack, or anything like that. Any sort of extension of these features will come from somewhere else, which we’ll discuss in the post after next.

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