Alright guys, this is it! The Advanced Class Guide releases next week and this is the final rules preview blog, featuring the hunter. When describing the druid class to a new player, you would often say something "She casts nature spells, turns into animals, and has an animal pet if you want". For the ranger, it might be "He fights well against certain foes in certain terrains and eventually gets nature magic and an animal pet if you want". The hunter is a hybrid of the two, and she pushes the pet up in that list, "She casts nature magic spells and has an animal pet with all kinds of synergies." Those of you who were watching my little teasers know that there's a tweak to the hunter that, while small in terms of wordcount, I think will have major repercussions in making the hunter awesome.Flavorwise, you might have been able to pull off some of the hunter feel before with a ranger or druid character. In fact, this class was the one that was the hardest sell to me as a playtester, as the first playtest version felt like you could make an archetype of druid that traded out wild shape for the hunter abilities and it wouldn't be too out of line for an archetype. Perhaps an alternate class at most. Basically, she was a prepared Wisdom-based caster like the druid, with the druid's BAB and skill points, mostly druid weapons and armor plus bows, using the druid spell list but casting with the 6th-level spellcasting advancement of a magus. She got a bunch of teamwork feats that the companion automatically shared, which was pretty cool, and a feature called animal focus that gave her and her companion a choice from a menu of small but generally useful buffs as a swift action with very limited uses.
Playtest feedback was mostly along the same lines—the teamwork feats were a good start, but hunter still had a way to go if she wanted to be able to hang out with the druids and rangers and hold her own. So she whistled for her companion and retreated into the woods to meditate on her nature. Though she hadn't made as many friends as she wanted yet, she wasn't lonely with her companion there. When she emerged, she had some substantial upgrades. For one, she could now use all martial weapons and despite the lack of proficiency, she wasn't restricted from wearing heavy armor if she wanted. More importantly, she gained earlier access on abilities like wild empathy, she scored free Precise Shot at level 2, and her animal focus now worked for about triple the number of minutes per day on her and permanently on her animal companion (she could still switch it out). She even cooked up a few new teamwork feats that worked great for a hunter.
But there was still plenty of good feedback about the hunter needing to change a bit more to find her niche. Many playtesters gave feedback that when running side-by-side comparisons of druids and hunters in their games, despite all the hunter had gained, she was still not doing as well as the druid. Unlike most of the other classes in my reveal blog, the hunter has plenty of new secrets to share, including multiple new class features involving using her link to scout and raising her companion from the dead. For melee hunters, that free Precise Shot freebie I mentioned can now be swapped for an extremely juicy early-access Outflank at level 2! If your companion dies in action, all the permanent animal focus powers instantly shift over to you, allowing you to stack up to four different powers onto yourself starting at level 8. The hunter even has 6 skill points per level now!
But the big change is so exciting, it gets its own paragraph. Remember how the hunter can cast spells from the druid spell list, up to 6th level spells? Well now, she can cast ranger spells too. And if they're on both lists, she casts them using the lower level. That's right, she's the only class in the game who can cast resist energy as a 1st-level character! Gravity bow, lead blades, and aspect of the falcon at 1st. Wind wall and spike growth as 2nd-level spells at 4th. The list goes on. She's also a spontaneous caster now, so she doesn't have to load up her slots with resist energy to still be able to cast it when you need it. So basically, for low levels, at least (particularly, 1, 2, and 4), the hunter is arguably a better caster than the druid in some situations (the druid still has the ability to prepare any spell from her list when you need that odd spell, so she still has her place), with better skills, better weapons, and a kickass companion. There's still plenty of reason to play a druid, but through one elegant change, the hunter has vaulted her way up to the point where I hope she will satisfy many of the playtesters who shape her new abilities.
Alright then, on to the archetypes! Today we'll be going on a hunt through the archetype section to stalk that cool-looking guy with the white tiger you see over there. He's definitely not the verminous hunter because he doesn't have a vermin companion, though he does look badass enough to be able to walk right through swarms. He's not the packmaster because he doesn't have several animal companions. While he definitely looks feral, he probably isn't the feral hunter because the feral hunter trades out the animal companion to gain permanent bonuses, wild shape, and boosts to summoned allies, though perhaps that's a summoned tiger by his side. He's also probably not the divine hunter, since even though I could believe he has access to a domain's powers and granted spells, that tiger doesn't look celestial or fiendish. So what's the conclusion? Well, I suppose he might be the feral hunter with a summoned tiger, but personally I think he's waiting to be your next PC! Anyone want to stat him up here in this thread? Perhaps it will help tide your salivating hunger for the final book. Soon, my friends. Soon.