Wondrous Item auto-reject advice #21: Item gives a class ability or a feat


RPG Superstar™ 2011 General Discussion

Contributor

(Last year I compiled a list of things that would instantly disqualify your item. I'm posting them one by one as we approach Round 1 of this year's contest.)

21. Item gives a class ability or a feat.

The game is designed so characters can easily multiclass to get the class abilities they want (if you've never played previous versions of the game, you don't know how weird the rules used to be for multiclassing). Creating a magic item that gives away a class ability does an end-around that multiclassing functionality and punishes the character who actually did the work of multiclassing. And, because at higher levels you have plenty of gold to spend on items, you could simply buy the class abilities you want without having to make sacrifices to your primary class's abilities.

This sort of item is a variant of Spell In A Can: it's Class In A Can. Why take two levels of rogue if you can just get a ring of evasion? Why take levels in monk if you can get a monk's belt? Why take 4 levels in fighter if you can get a scabbard of Weapon Specialization? Why take levels in barbarian if you can wear a cloak of rage. It's not creative, and not innovative. You're giving PCs an easy way to get something they can already get in the game through a more difficult process (multiclassing).

Likewise, items that give you feats aren't innovative, and (given the precedent items in the game already) they're fairly cheap, so a high-level character with 20,000gp to spare could buy several feat-items... and the guy who actually spent his precious feat slots on those feats is cheated. Feat In A Can is no more innovative that Class In A Can or Spell In A Can.

Note that this advice doesn't apply to monster abilities such as gaze attacks, pounce, push, pull, rake, and so on--things standard PCs normally can't get because the standard classes don't give those abilities. It doesn't mean these items are innovative, it just means their existence isn't a cheesy way to get around the drawbacks of multiclassing. A monster-ability item can be clever (like the batrachian helm from last year, which had a frog theme). Of course, in a world where everyone is playing a monstrous character, you could make the same argument against these as you would against class-ability and feat items, but we have to assume a standard fantasy setting for this contest, which means these powers are normally off the table without the help of magic.

So:
Class ability in a can? Not innovative, cheesy way to avoid multiclassing, probably rejected.
Feat in a can? Not innovative, cheesy way to avoid having to actually select a feat, probably rejected.
Monster ability in a can: Not necessarily innovative, not a cheesy way around a PC limitation, not auto-rejected.


Question: does the feat/class ability auto-reject still apply if the item's version is more limited or significantly different in some way? For example, if the cloak of rage only functioned for characters below 1/2 max HP.

We've established that Spell In A Can is bad, but an item that casts an existing spell but is otherwise good/interesting isn't necessarily bad. Is the same true of items that grant feats or class features, or is this a stronger prohibition/aversion than that on spells?

Side question: what about class-ability-ish granting items that are only useful and/or are more useful for characters with the appropriate abilities already? For example, a monk's belt that was useless if you didn't already have at least one level of monk.

Contributor

Is a ring of evasion any less of a cheat of the rogue class if it only applies when not having evasion would kill you? To put it another way, "This lets you steal from the rogue class only when you really need it" is still stealing from the rogue class. :p

Items that improve on class abilities you have, or let you use those class abilities in different ways, that can be very cool. Beware the item like this, though, that just gives you a higher-level version of your class ability, as that translates to, "Yay, I was only level-dipping for the weaker ability, now I get the even better one, too!"

(To answer your unasked question, yes, if it were up to me, some of the items in the Core Rulebook would go away.)


Sean K Reynolds wrote:

Is a ring of evasion any less of a cheat of the rogue class if it only applies when not having evasion would kill you? To put it another way, "This lets you steal from the rogue class only when you really need it" is still stealing from the rogue class. :p

Items that improve on class abilities you have, or let you use those class abilities in different ways, that can be very cool. Beware the item like this, though, that just gives you a higher-level version of your class ability, as that translates to, "Yay, I was only level-dipping for the weaker ability, now I get the even better one, too!"

(To answer your unasked question, yes, if it were up to me, some of the items in the Core Rulebook would go away.)

Interesting statement.

I think avoiding a CAIAC will be easier than a SIAC overall.

Liberty's Edge

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Sean K Reynolds wrote:
(To answer your unasked question, yes, if it were up to me, some of the items in the Core Rulebook would go away.)

Think I just discovered why after all these years my thieves/rogues have never come across items than enhance backstab/sneak attack.

I'm sad, and designing a new item now.

Grand Lodge Contributor , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9

NotMousse wrote:
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
(To answer your unasked question, yes, if it were up to me, some of the items in the Core Rulebook would go away.)

Think I just discovered why after all these years my thieves/rogues have never come across items than enhance backstab/sneak attack.

I'm sad, and designing a new item now.

In 3.5, there were several magic items that helped rogues to make better use of the sneak attack ability, most of which I think were not very innovative, they were basically just "patches" to get rid of some limitations of the ability. Incidentally, many of these things are now part of PF core and the rogue doesn't have to deal with many of the problems his 3.5 counterpart had.

A recent example of what I consider more innovative magic item design that interacts with the sneak attack ability is a certain wondrous item that appears in the Kingmaker AP. It allows the wearer to treat a target as flat-footed, but its use is limited to ranged attacks only and it has a daily uses limit too. Very useful, but not a game-breaker. And it's useful for other classes too, so it's not just a "rogue item".

Contributor

NotMousse wrote:

Think I just discovered why after all these years my thieves/rogues have never come across items than enhance backstab/sneak attack.

I'm sad, and designing a new item now.

Careful, though. One, that sort of item is going to be hard to price (a +1d6 sneak attack should cost at least as much as a +1 enh bonus to a weapon, frex), and two, it becomes a no-brainer item for rogues, which means you should bump the price a little higher so it ISN'T a no-brainer.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

serpent wrote:
they were basically just "patches" to get rid of some limitations of the ability

Like most weapon crystals, yeah.

On an interesting note, the advice here gives me a really interesting idea to change my item for the better. I knew there was a reason I was reading all of them. ;)

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

My two-cents...

Spoiler:

I think this category often catches a lot of people by surprise. That's because the natural reaction when moving away from a Spell-in-a-Can is to examine what other cool, existing game effects can be layered into an item that doesn't have its basis in a specific spell used x times/day. And, class abilities and feats are like the low-hanging fruit luring you into using them instead. But you need to aim higher than that. The type of innovative and "Superstar" mojo you should be bringing to this competition isn't simply rehashing stuff that already exists.

In addition, as a game designer, you need to pay particular attention to the underlying rules of the game itself. If you look closely, you'll realize that a lot of things are interconnected. And, if you pull out a class ability or feat and make that available in a way it's normally not (i.e., no level-dip or feat expenditure required, all you have to do is pay the cost for a magic item), then that has a trickle-down effect on other aspects of the game...and not in a positive way. A Superstar designer needs to recognize that and avoid it.

Yes, there are times when the rules are meant to be broken. Yes, there are occasionally items that already exist in the game that break this barrier. But flirting with it as your initial concept to gain entry into RPG Superstar probably won't do you any favors. So, the wise designer avoids this issue, sidestepping it entirely and bringing something else. Something that doesn't break the game or threaten the balance between feats and classes and magic items. And yet, something that's still awesome, cool, well-designed, and innovative.


--Neil

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 , Dedicated Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9

Class abilities have a big cost, that you had to take levels in the class to get them. That is a cost that is always felt, even when you are 20th level. An item that gives a class ability and only costs 25K isn't that much of a cost at 20th level.

Also, the judges want to see that you can write your own rules, not borrow them from a class ability.

Liberty's Edge

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Careful, though. One, that sort of item is going to be hard to price (a +1d6 sneak attack should cost at least as much as a +1 enh bonus to a weapon, frex), and two, it becomes a no-brainer item for rogues, which means you should bump the price a little higher so it ISN'T a no-brainer.

Shouldn't it be in the same camp as Frost, Flaming, Shocking and Defending as a simple +1? The first three provide an extra d6 without the need of having a specific class, or setting up sneak attack conditions, and bypasses damage reduction. The last provides a trade from offensive to defensive at the whim of the PC.

In a sick display I could build a weapon dealing fire, cold, electric, and non-lethal damage all at once for the cost of a +5 weapon which while it hits more often deals far less damage.


NotMousse wrote:

Shouldn't it be in the same camp as Frost, Flaming, Shocking and Defending as a simple +1? The first three provide an extra d6 without the need of having a specific class, or setting up sneak attack conditions, and bypasses damage reduction. The last provides a trade from offensive to defensive at the whim of the PC.

Well, don't forget how common elemental resistances become, especially at higher CRs -- even 5 points of resistance pretty much eats those kinds of enhancements. Crack a Marilith with that weapon and it's not taking any of your dice of damage.

For a character built as a melee rogue, yeah, +1d6 sneak attack is probably pretty much just better than Flaming/Shocking/Frost. For anyone else, I think probably not.

Liberty's Edge

Dire Mongoose wrote:
Crack a Marilith with that weapon and it's not taking any of your dice of damage.

You forget it also takes the d6 of non-lethal, and d6 of theoretical additional sneak damage pretty easily as well. And it's freakin' CR 17!

The majority of encounters will be multiples of lower CR enemies, and even when looking at a single enemy encounter a group isn't likely to meet a Marilith till at least level 14 (if the GM cares for them to live anyway). Fourteenth level is two levels beyond what PFS accounts for, and when wealth is expected to be fairly high.


NotMousse wrote:

And it's freakin' CR 17!

It's the first thing I thought of. Make it a CR 9 Vrock, CR 1 Lemure (ok, that takes the shocking damage), a CR 6 Shambling Mound, a CR 7 Remorhaz (that takes the shock, too), or any of dozens of other things, if you like.

Point being, in the hands of a character that's already built to sneak attack and whose whole combat strategy is to set up to sneak attack, I can see a weapon that gives an extra die of sneak attack being more desirable than Flaming/Shocking/Frost.

Does that amount to being a +2 equivalent enhancement? I don't know and I'm not trying to make a case for that.

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
(To answer your unasked question, yes, if it were up to me, some of the items in the Core Rulebook would go away.)

I'm glad you've explicitly stated that.

I've been getting the updates, as they come out, and while I agree (wholly or partly) with every one, I still couldn't help but think of examples of every single one that are considered staples of the game.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Snorter wrote:
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
(To answer your unasked question, yes, if it were up to me, some of the items in the Core Rulebook would go away.)

I'm glad you've explicitly stated that.

I've been getting the updates, as they come out, and while I agree (wholly or partly) with every one, I still couldn't help but think of examples of every single one that are considered staples of the game.

One of the main things Sean's trying to get at with these posts is that in order to excel at RPG superstar, it's best to innovate. Sure, there are examples in the core rulebook of pretty much EVERYTHING that breaks one of these rules, but this contest isn't about building items for the core game. It's about innovating, doing something new, and proving that you can take the game beyond its baseline, to a certain extent. There's PLENTY of rules design in the core rulebook or elsewhere that wouldn't be good enough to advance in RPG superstar... but that by no means says that those items in the core rulebook or elsewhere are "bad" items.

AKA: An item that makes it to the top 32 pretty much has to raise the bar and be better than most of the items that we've seen already. That's part of what makes it a hard contest, and certainly part of what makes those top 32 something special.

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

That's what I hoped, but it's best to acknowledge that you're aware the Core Rules of every edition have included a lot of this stuff that's now frowned on; the spells-in-a-can, the feats-in-a-can, the class-in-a-can, etc.

There could be a lot of people tearing up their entries, who are too eager to claim you've got a blind spot where your own or your friends' work is concerned.

A lot of that stuff, you've had to keep in the game for backwards compatibility. I wouldn't want to be the one to tell players in a ported game that their metamagic rods no longer work. Better to tell them their rods still work, but they should feel dirty and ashamed of themselves, for using them...

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Snorter wrote:

That's what I hoped, but it's best to acknowledge that you're aware the Core Rules of every edition have included a lot of this stuff that's now frowned on; the spells-in-a-can, the feats-in-a-can, the class-in-a-can, etc.

There could be a lot of people tearing up their entries, who are too eager to claim you've got a blind spot where your own or your friends' work is concerned.

A lot of that stuff, you've had to keep in the game for backwards compatibility. I wouldn't want to be the one to tell players in a ported game that their metamagic rods no longer work. Better to tell them their rods still work, but they should feel dirty and ashamed of themselves, for using them...

That's not what I said. Spells in a can, feats in a can, all of those types of magic items DO have a place. Entire categorioes of magic item fall into these categories (potions, scrolls, wands, staves, etc.) and they're key magic items. Important ones, even. They're not frowned upon, but neither are they the way to catch a judge's or the public's attention in RPG superstar. We didn't keep things like wands of fireball, potions of cure light wounds, or metamagic rods in the game simply out of a desire for backwards compatibility, but because those magic items are useful and serve a role.

But not for RPG Superstar. RPG Superstar is where you wow us with your creativity. Poaching feats and spells and class abilities can make for a useful magic item (not everyone at Paizo shares Sean's apparent hatred of the ring of evasion)... but it IS kind of lazy, or at the best, workmanlike. Show of your creativity in RPG Superstar, not your ability to build baseline filler items hardly worth 100 words of writing, let alone 200 or 300 or more.


I think the point, and I don't want to speak for anyone at Paizo, is that the items that are already in the game are part of the baseline design of the game. Designing more items that do the same thing is like making a new class whose primary purpose is to have skills and make sneaky attacks, or a new class that primarily wears armor and hits people with weapons. The concept is horrible, but it has already been done.

On top of this, some Paizo folk may think that some of the existing items might have been better off not being included in the baseline game assumption, but the ship has already sailed on that decision.

I think the point is you don't want to add more of something that is already walking a fine line and has probably been done as much if not more than the game really needs, and such a "utility" item isn't the most exciting thing to design for a competition like this.

Apologies to any of the Paizo folk if I'm out of like elaborating on what they have said.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6

Aside on the ring of evasion

Spoiler:
It would work better, IMHO, if it cost an immediate action to use, like the psionic power evade burst Then it burns up an action and can be done only once a round, so it's not letting the ranger/bard/anyone with an amped up reflex save completely step on the rogue's toes.

Shadow Lodge

Matthew Morris wrote:

Aside on the ring of evasion

** spoiler omitted **

That's brilliant! I think I am going to do just that, but reduce the cost of the ring as well

Dedicated Voter Season 8

So, call me paranoid, but I have a too good too be right feeling for this item, I'm currently making my first choice. So I need to know where the flaw I'm not seeing is hiding.

Therefore; What about the item which expands on a class ability, making it somewhat useless to anyone not of that class? I'm being ten kinds of worried about this, but checking the previous years something alike has been done before. And what about copying and expanding a class ability, but still, through others, making it something that is unlikely or even useless to other classes, but still gives the class in question something it wouldn't normally have just by having the class (at any level)?

Okay a lot of questions, not sure they're relevant, but as I said, I'm feeling like I should be seeing a flaw somewhere in this item, which I really like, and don't want to have a flaw that'll leave me thinking - oh, why didn't I think of that?

On another note, thanks so much for the time and care to write up all these advices to Sean and everyone else. It's most appreciated, and have surely given me some hints that I hadn't thought of.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

An item that expands on a class ability (even if it makes the item more specifically geared toward a single class and mostly useless for others), could be seen as innovative, but it depends entirely on what it does and how it does it (mechanically-speaking). What you don't want to do is duplicate a class ability and then grant it to everyone else who plunks down the gold to buy your item. And you don't want it to duplicate a feat, whereby your chosen class can avoid having to spend a feat-slot on such an ability when they purchase your item instead.

But stuff that enhances a class ability should be fair game. The twintone flute from RPG Superstar 2009 and the cacophonous monkey from 2010 had some elements of that for bardic music performances. It all depends on how you handle it, though. If you create a game-breaking ability that's ripe for abuse (i.e., no one of that class would ever not buy your item because of how much it magnifies their power), you may be going down the wrong design path.

In addition, items with a very narrow appeal to just a single class (with all others finding the item entirely useless) can limit its playability. And that may or may not be an issue to consider. Sometimes it works great. And sometimes it doesn't. An example of how to widen the use of such an item could be gleaned from the monk's robe in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. I know Sean cited that item earlier as a bad example of a Class-in-a-Can. But, the underlying element of ensuring it has some value to both monks and non-monks is a decent example to follow as a component of such designs. Giving everyone the kung-fu mastery of Improved Unarmed Strike and a monk's unarmed damage can take things too far, though.

Hope that helps,
--Neil

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Just thought I would throw this out there. It is a good idea to reacquaint yourself a bit with the base classes before sending your item in. I play in many different rules sets (3.5, Pathfinder, L5R, Witch Hunter, Chronicles of the Shattered Empires) so a quick review of the classes showed me that my original idea is very close to a wizard ability. I'm glad I looked.

Liberty's Edge Dedicated Voter Season 6

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Luthia wrote:

So, call me paranoid, but I have a too good too be right feeling for this item, I'm currently making my first choice. So I need to know where the flaw I'm not seeing is hiding.

Therefore; What about the item which expands on a class ability, making it somewhat useless to anyone not of that class? I'm being ten kinds of worried about this, but checking the previous years something alike has been done before. And what about copying and expanding a class ability, but still, through others, making it something that is unlikely or even useless to other classes, but still gives the class in question something it wouldn't normally have just by having the class (at any level)?

Okay a lot of questions, not sure they're relevant, but as I said, I'm feeling like I should be seeing a flaw somewhere in this item, which I really like, and don't want to have a flaw that'll leave me thinking - oh, why didn't I think of that?

On another note, thanks so much for the time and care to write up all these advices to Sean and everyone else. It's most appreciated, and have surely given me some hints that I hadn't thought of.

I think your question is largely this...

If I create an item that expands on a particular class ability, in-so-much that it gives that class a different ability that it wouldn't otherwise get at any level of said class, is that ok?

My answer would be, for whatever my opinion is worth as I'm not a judge, yes. As long as it doesn't give the character an ability from a different class. A different ability is fine, but an ability from a different class is not.


Sigh.

Well it was going to have an unusual drawback, but yes, item was going to give a class ability.

At least I checked.


Not the only reason I never enter RPG superstar.
I'm for weapons that give fighters true strike 3 times a day, because it's wasted on sorcerers/wizards. That's dealing with a supposed existing imbalance. Some people want to play a straight fighter, not take a 1 level dip as a sorcerer just to make a valid character.

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