Playtest- Sanctum of a Lost Age and Tomb of the Iron Medusa
I got to play the Swashbuckler in this playtest and overall really liked the class. I’ll break down what I thought of all of its abilities in a little bit, but I’ll start with a few observations on the other classes.
Investigator- I liked how this class played out, but there are a few points that I think are a bit lacking. She was able to really be the character that knew everything and that was awesome for story exposition and the puzzle parts of the adventures. I would have liked to see some way for that knowledge to be used in combat, maybe granting a hit and damage bonus to herself or her allies after she identifies a monster or having abilities that can reduce a monster’s special defenses (SR, DR, Resistances etc.).
Shaman- I didn’t feel like there was much special to this class. Both of the players playing shamans did a good job with feat and spell selections to make them effective but it was rare that they pulled out a spirit ability or hex that struck me as unique or flavorful. The life shaman’s cures were certainly powerful, but it felt like he was struggling to be the healer that a cleric can be without thinking. I’m not sure if I have any concrete suggestions at the moment, but I’ll continue to process this and add thoughts to this thread or the shaman thread if I come up with anything.
Slayer- The slayer’s switch hitter tactics served him well and we were often able to set up good combos to let him get his sneak attack running. This felt like a strong class, though his damage was somewhat situational. Given that it takes him a few actions to really key in on an enemy, I feel like he should be able to out damage a fighter by a little bit once he is in the zone (Favored Target on, Quarry on, flanking etc.). As it was it seemed like he needed to get all of his tricks running to keep up with the damage I could do without any special set-up. I also think this class needs some abilities to take down targets without needing an ally to help. The flavor of the class is somewhere between bounty hunter and assassin and while these archetypes certainly can work with others, they can also work alone. Perhaps talents that let you feint as a free action or deny dexterity as part of a Slayer’s Advance or charge or something like that. A higher level ability that let the slayer pounce with sneak attack when using slayer’s advance and favored target would be pretty appealing.
Swashbuckler- I really liked how this class played out. It felt like it hit the theme well and was able to fill an important combat role while still having a good amount of versatility. My build, in broad strokes, was a dex based fighter with an agile weapon and just enough strength to power attack, moderate charisma and low int. I took the weapon focus/specialization tree all the way through greater spec with a rapier, the dazzling display, shatter defenses, deadly stoke tree and then critical mastery and bleeding critical at high level. My only skills were acrobatics and intimidate. I can see how this class could easily be the party face and/or a maneuver master and I like that it has that versatility.
At 7th level I felt like a competent fighter. My damage was solid and always on and it got better when I could add precision. My AC was the highest in the party and I sometimes wished I had the antagonize feat to make myself more of a tank. Unfortunately many of the things we fought were mindless, so I wasn’t able to use intimidate ad much as I’d hoped but I still had plenty to contribute.
15th level was somewhat more frustrating but that was due to decisions I’d made building the character and no fault of the class. The early part of the adventure was investigative and discovering the beginning of the story. A different swashbuckler might have had plenty to do here but I chose not to have any skills in those areas. It wasn’t really a problem, but it left me without much to do. The first fight was against a ghost. Incorporeal meant no precision or bleed damage and undead meant no intimidate. Incorporeal are frustrating for everyone so that was fine and I was able to make good use of parry to keep him from hitting me and applying nasty effects. The next big fight was with elementals and an outsider. The outsider was flying and invisible so I was unable to get to him and the elementals were immune to my precision damage and bleed effects. Not a shining moment for the class but with power attack and a +5 weapon I did just fine. The next two fights were against strictly flying creatures and I’d made the mistake of not buying any gear that let me fly. Additionally, the casters had not prepared any buff spells for this situation so I sat grounded while the GM (wisely) kept his distance from me. That was all of the mod we had time for that night so it left me with a sour taste in my mouth, but again, more due to my lack of preparation than anything wrong with the class. The swashbuckler fills the front line fighter role and at high level, front liners need tricks to overcome these things. Had I leveled up more organically I would have had the necessary items. When we finish the module, I’m going to change my gear somewhat so that I can overcome some of those fighter blind spots.
Here is my take on the class features I got to make use of
Panache- even with a relatively small pool of panache (3 or 4 points), I felt like this balanced well. Having a high crit weapon allowed this to replenish fairly reliably but not so much that I could waste it.
Derring-Do – this isn’t an ability that I used much but I liked having it in the tool box. That extra bonus to swashbuckler skills is nice and one panache doesn’t feel too expensive.
Opportune Parry – I didn’t have combat reflexes but I was still able to make use of this often. Mostly I used it to parry attacks of opportunity when I failed at acrobatics rolls. This is a handy ability and potentially very powerful. Having iterative parries scale down like iterative attacks might make sense (second parry is -5, third is -10 etc).
Riposte – I only used this once (though as I think back I shouldn’t have since I never had an extra AoO) and the panache cost felt very steep. It would be difficult for this to be more than an incidental ability as written because you just run out of panache too quickly.
Recovery – I only used this once but when I did it was very handy. An extra +2 AC at a critical moment or the ability to avoid iterative attacks is useful but the panache cost makes it something to use carefully.
Bravery – Not my favorite ability and one I try to swap out on fighter archetypes but it’s flavorful and helpful for a low will save class. This never came up for me.
Swashbuckler Finesse – The fact that this is like weapon finesse but not weapon finesse is overly complicated in my opinion. It should just be a bonus feat, especially since the feat is required to get into a number of other thematic feats and having to take a feat that mimics an ability you get for free feels like an unnecessary tax.
Nimble – This helped keep my AC high and on par with a heavy armored front line fighter. Good stuff.
Menacing Swordplay – I made as much use of this as I could given the monsters we fought. Being able to intimidate for free should make shatter defenses easier to use but honestly, I never had enough trouble hitting to make it an issue.
Precise Strike – The damage bonus is great and keeps swashbucklers on par with the best damage dealers in the game. There were times when it didn’t work and I felt the loss, but not so much that I felt useless. The ability to double it was nice but never seemed overwhelming. I like this ability.
Swashbuckler Initiative – The bonus to initiative was nice and meant I was often going first. I never took quickdraw so I never used the other half. It second part didn’t seem worth it to me but there might be builds that make good use of it.
Bonus Feats – These are just about right. They are enough to give you a boost and let you chase a few feat trees but not so many as to overshadow a fighter.
Weapon Training – The static to-hit and damage bonuses are nice and it’s nice that they’re named the same as the fighter so fighter items work with them. Improved crit at 5th level is powerful but taking it at 10 is probably too late.
Pommel Strike – I never used it but I like the ability to work in some maneuvers for free
Swift Feint – This was nice, especially with two sneak attackers in the party. There were times when my best action was to set them up and others where I was better off just hitting. I think this is not worth much as written unless you have party members that benefit from it. Making it a standard action means that it’s very difficult to get other feats or abilities to work well with it.
Targeted Strike – I never used this but I often considered it. It’s a nice variety of maneuvers. The fact that I use an attack roll and the opponent gets no save seems very powerful.
Bleeding Wound – I actually took this as my signature deed but never got to use it. Hopefully in the second half of the adventure I’ll be able to get close to something that bleeds since I focused a number of my high level feats around this.
Evasive – Great ability. It’s a little painful having to wait this long for evasion (longer than a ranger!) but getting all three in one shot is nice. I wonder if maybe a scaling ability might make more sense. Something like Uncanny Dodge at 3rd, Evasion at 7th and Improved Uncanny Dodge at 11th.
Subtle Blade – This seems like something that will be ignored until you run into one of those disarm or sunder encounters that come along every so often and then it will be stunning. It never came up for me.
Dizzying Defense – Maybe I used this once. Most of the time I had other things to do with my swift actions and I didn’t need the armor class. Also, full defensive means no attacks of opportunity which means no parry. At 15th level my AC was 35 and my to-hit was +30. The numbers work out about the same defense wise. Full defense is better against many attack, parry against one or two
Perfect Thrust – Never was I tempted to use this. My to-hit was good enough and I had other ways to make them flat footed and overcome DR. Maybe another build would make use of this ability but a full round action for one attack, even one that ignores DR and is almost guaranteed to hit, doesn’t seem like something that will come up very often.
19th and 20th level abilities – I was not high enough level to use these, though they mostly sound fun, useful and thematic. The only one I don’t like is Cheat Death. I like the concept of being too lucky to die, but often at high level, -1 and stable is a much safer place to be than 1 hp and still an active target.
Overall I think this class is well designed and doesn’t need much else to make it better. A few tweaks to some of the abilities will help them feel more polished or useful. Probably my only worry is that, as written, there is little reason to play a dex based fighter other than to stick with the theme. You’ll just as effective as a strength based fighter without having to spend money on an agile weapon. Perhaps the class could get Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat at 2nd level, Dex to damage along with weapon training at 5th and then improved crit as a bonus feat at 6th level.
I had a lot of fun playing this class and it certainly holds its own on the front line. I’m looking forward to seeing the final version and hope that our playtest has been informative.