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:
Starting at 1st level, you can split your nature between your animal side and your humanoid side. Choose a type of beast, such as wolf, bear, hawk, or shark, as your animal aspect. You can cast the speak with animals spell on yourself, but you can only communicate with beasts of this type.
Also, you have darkvision with a range of 60 feet, and you gain proficiency in the Nature skill.
Starting at 2nd level, you can inflict terrible wounds on opponents. When you hit a creature with a natural weapon, you can spend 1 savagery point to inflict a bleeding wound. While a creature has a bleeding wound, when it starts its turn it takes damage equal to 1 + one-quarter your level. A creature can only have one bleeding wound at a time. Any creature can take an action to stop the bleeding with a successful DC 10 Wisdom (Medicine) check. The wound also closes if the target receives magical healing.
Starting at 5th level, you can cast the polymorph spell, no material component required, and it lasts up to 1 hour. You do not need to concentrate to maintain this spell. You can only target yourself and you can only change into a creature of your animal aspect.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Starting at 8th level, your natural weapons dig deeper into your opponents. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a natural weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 damage of the same type dealt by the natural weapon to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.
Starting at 14th level, you can cast the dominate beast spell with a duration of 1 minute. You do not need to concentrate to maintain this spell. You can only target a creature of your animal aspect, and the target does not receive a saving throw.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Starting at 17th level, you regain hit points equal to your Constitution modifier (minimum of 1) if you end your turn in combat with fewer than half of your hit points remaining and you aren’t incapacitated. This healing does not occur if a silvered weapon deals damage to you in the previous round.
A lycanthrope’s abilities fall into two categories: things related to his animal type and things he uses to be effective in combat. Animal Aspect’s main job is to define what sort of lycanthrope the inflicted is*. The example animals are intentional; I don’t want players to feel restricted to only the lycanthrope types in the Monster Manual, because this class doesn’t care if you’re a werewolf or a werebeetle. Speak with animals isn’t a powerful ability, but I see it as something a DM can make relevant in various plots. The reason behind including darkvision is, I hope, obvious.
Bleeding Wound is thematic, though I’m still wondering about the damage. Ongoing damage isn’t really a thing in 5E so I don’t have a ton of examples to go on. Still, if most players are anything like mine and they hate letting enemies survive combat by running away, this has plenty of utility.
Animal Form was basically necessary. I don’t like the language, though. “A creature of your animal aspect” feels clunky and I’m open to suggestions.
Strong Claws is the bonus damage ability that keeps the inflicted mechanically competitive. There’s not much to say about it.
I’m a little iffy about Animal Command, but I think it fits the lycanthrope’s role and extends the original Animal Aspect. I like the idea of a werewolf who can flat-out tell a dire wolf to stand down, at least for a little while. Like Animal Aspect, this is situational based on what the DM allows. If the werestegosaurus never meets a stegosaurs in the wild, its utility is pretty limited, and I’m fine with that. It does open an interesting question, though: must an Animal Aspect be something that specific? That is, must I have a werestegosaurus, or can I have a more generic weredinosaur? If that’s the case, can a werewolf command only wolves, or also dire wolves, or all canids? I don’t know how much game balance factors in here.
I was worried about Regeneration, but it’s actually a worse version of a class feature from the paladin’s Oath of Redemption. Compared to that, I think I can scale this up.
Starting at 1st level, you gain resistance to necrotic damage or poison damage (your choice) and proficiency in the Religion skill.
Starting at 2nd level, you can steal life force from your enemies. When you hit a creature, other than an undead or a construct, with a natural weapon, you can spend 1 savagery point to regain a number of hit points equal to your Constitution modifier (minimum of 1).
Starting at 5th level, you do not require air, food, drink, or sleep.
Starting at 8th level, your blows carry some of your necromantic power. Select either cold or necrotic damage. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a natural attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 damage of the chosen type to the target. When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.
Cling to Life
Starting at 14th level, you can keep fighting even when your body is about to fail. When damage reduces you to 0 hit points, you do not fall unconscious. You still make death saving throws when you start your turn with 0 hit points.
Starting at 17th level, whenever a creature scores a critical hit against you, that attack is instead a normal hit.
Undead abilities are about the nature of undeath and how it affects a character. They’re less about giant shows of power and more about the subtle ways in which an undead person is unlike one who lives. Undead Form is the first example, because it lets a character survive certain effects that would drop anybody else. I toyed with making this damage immunity rather than resistance, but I’m happy with this where it is.
Life Drain is one of the first abilities I thought of when I considered an undead subclass. It doesn’t let the undead hit any harder, but it does add to their supernatural aspect.
Undead Nature is close to what 5E likes to call a “ribbon”, a class feature that’s fun and interesting but not mechanically useful. If it was just immunity to eating, drinking, and sleeping, I would agree. But I think adding immunity to breathing turns it into something that has real in-game effects.
The only thing interesting about Necromantic Touch is the choice of damage type. Even though undead are typically associated with necrotic damage, I didn’t want to force a player into it. This is also why Undead Form provides a choice. If a player wants to go full into necrotic damage, great, but if they don’t, there’s another option. In fact, I wouldn’t mind adding a third damage type, but none seemed thematically relevant.
I love Cling to Life. It’s like the Diehard ability in 3E but actually functional. One reason I like it so much is because it forces a difficult choice. A creature below 0 hit points automatically fails a death saving throw if they take any further damage. An inflicted who uses this power to remaining standing might inspire enemies to attack her further, hastening her death. It’s her choice whether she falls at the first opportunity, uses her turn to flee combat and heal up, or just keep swinging and hope somebody comes to her aid.
I couldn’t find anything else in the game like Undead Physiology. If you can think of a creature that does this, please let me know so I can make this language match it.
Note that nothing here tells the player what their source monster is. There’s no “if you’re a wolf, gain X, but if you’re a rat, gain Y” or “only inflicted caused by an incorporeal undead can use this feature.” That’s not what the class is about. This class is a set of mechanics, and it’s the player’s job to figure out how to present it. In the beta build I intend to include a sidebar, not unlike the one in the playtest artificer, that actively encourages players to reskin their class abilities as they see fit. Conveniently, this also saves me from writing giant lists of options and amending them every time a new creature comes out. Brevity is a virtue in 5E.
There’s only one other thing left to discuss before presenting the class as a whole, but boy, it’s a doozy.
* — I am fully aware that “lycanthrope” refers to werewolves, because “lycan-” means “wolf-“. Because I’m a linguistic pedant, I would prefer to call this a “therianthrope” or something similarly broad. But the D&D monster is named “lycanthrope”, and this class is about D&D monsters, so that’s what I feel I have to follow even if it’s objectively incorrect.