[Super Genius] The Genius Guide to the Death Mage


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Liberty's Edge

vergaul wrote:
Whoa, easy there Shadowcat. I think Question was just questioning in a querying manner, rather than asking quite questionable questions questing for trouble. Rather than quashing his queries, or quailing at his quips, or quizzing him on his queer quirks, or quitting in a pique, we should quest to quell this disqcomfort lest we look like quacking ducks.

First, asking "Is a death mage able to make knowledge: religion rolls untrained with regards to undead, because they don't get it as a class skill?" is a decent query. Saying "That's stupid, you shouldn't put skill points into non-class skills, that's not optimal." isn't a good query.

Second, I don't really care about his opinion of me or my reply. Someone who refuses to spend skill points because it isn't optimal isn't someone I'd ever want to play with or receive his input on anything to do with one of my games.

Scarab Sages Contributor; Developer, Super Genius Games

1 person marked this as a favorite.

ShadowcatX, I appreciate the support and I totally respect your right to have you own opinions. I *would* like to encourage everyone to stay polite on threads about my games.


Question wrote:


I can see why you did this, but there is no good way to do this in pathfinder. To give an example, one could argue that clerics should only be well versed in terms of religion, rather than necromantic rites unless they are worshipping a death related god. I can't see a cleric of the god of money being awesome at identifying undead in addition to being well versed in clerical rituals (unless you are playing in a setting where all clerics are undead hunters). Similarly one could argue that Barbarians should not have knowledge (nature) as it allows them to identify magical fairies, which is not a very barbarian like thing to do (unless of course, your setting has barbarians waging war with the fey on a regular basis).

That's a fair point. I think Death Mages would be fairly well versed in funeral rites, questions of the afterlife, undead, and ancestor worship. I could imagine they would be somewhat versed in other religions, simply because their own cultural practices might be frowned upon by certain sects. I also think the Death Mage would be a good fit for followers of a deity such as Wee Jas who are not clerics but arcane casters.

On the other hand, death mages are not clergy, are not even necessarily academics at all, and likely have a very specialized familiarity with religious rites.

Ironically, in Rome, the god of money was Pluto, who was also god of the underworld. :) He was identified with Hades and other deities of the dead, departed, and undead. His ferryman, Charon, required a payment of two pennies to be placed upon a dead body's eyes. So maybe "goddess of love" would have been a better example. :)

Anyway, in my view, the practical uses of Knowledge (religion) are such that I would expect the death mage to have it as a class skill. I understand Owen Stephens's thinking, but I think in this case Pathfinder is being tasked to make a distinction it was not made to. Although knowledge (religion) implies academic breadth or a lot of practical experience dealing with different cults, those are just backgrounds for the skill. The skill itself is, "What is that undead creature? What is this symbol on this altar? Are those lizardfolk attacking us because we invaded a sacred place? To what plane did our rogue's soul depart?" I think the death mage's description suggests they would be pretty good at those things, provided they invest a modicum of interest.


Quote:

It's not really true that I expected a reaper mage to function as a true fighting-caster hybrid. A death mage is a full spellcaster with 7th, 8th, and 9th level spells. Instead I wanted the reaper mage to have *more* martial options than a typical death mage, much like a cleric who takes martial domains or a sorcerer who takes the abyssal bloodline and gets claws. In fact it is because death mages don't do buffing spells I included the option -- being a reaper mage is how you make a death mage who is less hampered in melee, rather than selecting AC and melee boosting spells.

The lack of buffing spells and big flash-booms is one of the reasons I went with hp and attack bonus progressions normally used by divine spellcasters, as well.

The reaper mage is actually primarily an anti-undead death mage, and since reaping suggests using a scythe I wanted a death mage to have an option for making that iconic weapon not as poor a choice.

Of course the reaper mage *needs* to be worse at melee than a magus, since they have greater spelclasting ability.

The problem with the reaper mage as a true fighting-caster hybrid is that it has no way to increase AC and one means of increasing damage (reap), in addition to MAD.

At higher levels you have a spellcaster in a chain shirt, wielding a scythe with maybe 14 str, in melee with an opponent who would likely slap him down with a single full attack. In other words you have something like the rogue, except cha is the main stat instead of dex. And even a rogue (which is recognised as not being high DPR) can easily outdamage a death mage with sneak attacks (reap simply does not compare).

If i wanted to play a melee spellcaster hybrid, i could go cleric, worship a death god, take a scythe, and be relatively safe with medium armor and buffs. I could even take one feat to run around in full plate if i wanted to. Buffed, the cleric would easily outdamage the reaper mage as well, as well as being able to heal the party.

Sure, the reaper mage has access to arcane necromantic spells, but this presents the reaper mage with two choices. Either go spell focus necromancy, stand back, and cast in safety, at which point he's a gimped wizard (who can do much more), or get into melee and be ineffective. Since any "save or suck" spell is going to be much more effective than hitting enemies with a low str melee attack, the reaper mage is better off spending every round casting one of those spells. And if the reaper mage were to go up against undead that are immune to those spells, he would have been better off going wizard and casting haste/enlarge person/heroism/the usual buff spells on the party rather than trying to hit them with a gimped, 3+cha mod per day sneak attack.

I think the animal companion option is also sub par when you have no options to buff it (i think druid players would agree with this). And i'm pretty sure there are feats that allow you to gain an undead cohort or animal companion (might be 3.5 though), so that's two major class features that can be duplicated by a single feat.


Question wrote:
Quote:
It's not really true that I expected a reaper mage to function as a true fighting-caster hybrid.
The problem with the reaper mage as a true fighting-caster hybrid

Question, what is your complaint, exactly?


That it doesn't work well as a fighter-caster hybrid. I thought i explained this pretty well.

Cleric works well as a fighter-caster hybrid. It has the spell list for it and it has decent AC to survive. He can even heal himself when he gets hurt.

Reaper mage has worse survivability than a rogue. He can't be expected to melee anything at later levels and survive.

Scarab Sages Contributor; Developer, Super Genius Games

As I said, the reaper mage isn't designed to be a true fighter-caster hybrid, any more than a sorcerer with the abyssal bloodline is expected to be a fighter-caster because he has a class ability that gives him claws.

If you *really* want to make a melee reaper, obviously you don't want to stick in light armor bu high level. Go ahead and take Medium Armor Proficiency and wear a mithral breast plate. No penalty, since you proficient in medium armor, and no ASF, because it counts as light armor. I don't promise it's an optimum build, though.

You'll have the same average hp as someone with a d10 (okay, 1 less since you get 9 at 1st level, rather than 10), and a magic breast palte. If you really, really want a good AC I recommend pumping Dex and Cha, and also picking up Combat expertise, since you can add your Cha to one attack/round. I suppose you could pick up Vital Strike.

Obviously you'll want to focus on the classic touch attack spells -- chill touch, inflict wounds, ghoul touch, vampiric touch, bestow curse. Of course I think in most cases you'd be better off using spectral hand for those -- but most of them are witch spells too and witches don't get as many hit points, as good a bab, any armor, or spectral hand, so there is something to be said for being armored and heartier for touch spell combat.

Nor is it entirely true you can't buff yourself. Deathly pall gives you Str and hp (not much, but it's a 1st level spell after all, you have better false life options, and grave shield can be useful against many forms of special attacks. No, none of that is as good as a wizard or cleric, but it's not supposed to be. If you want buffing options as a death mage, you should select the fetish option for your death bond. (You can also gain yet more melee options this way -- deadly blow, instrument of death, and warding spirits, the last being a great way to boost your AC if you want to be closer to the front line as it's a luck bonus).

But all that is missing the point. A reaper mage is supposed to be good against undead, not everyone. At low levels that's mostly just some extra hp and extra melee damage -- mostly in case an undead gets in your face and you need to swing on it. At 8th your defenses against undead take a big jump, and at 14th you can carve up ghosts (without having to pay for a ghost touch weapon).

Being able to add 2d6 to a melee attack against a skeleton at low level is useful. You can smash them as well as most fighters, though you won't have as much staying power. But it's a nice back-up if you are low on spells (much more likely to happen at low levels). As you gain levels you get more undead-specific bonuses as a reaper mage, which should tell you what that option's focus is supposed to be.


Question wrote:

That it doesn't work well as a fighter-caster hybrid. I thought i explained this pretty well.

Cleric works well as a fighter-caster hybrid. It has the spell list for it and it has decent AC to survive. He can even heal himself when he gets hurt.

Reaper mage has worse survivability than a rogue. He can't be expected to melee anything at later levels and survive.

So... play a magus.

Liberty's Edge

Owen K. C. Stephens wrote:
ShadowcatX, I appreciate the support and I totally respect your right to have you own opinions. I *would* like to encourage everyone to stay polite on threads about my games.

My apologies. Certain types of people get under my skin. I'll bow out, especially since it isn't like you needed my help anyways.


Question wrote:
That it doesn't work well as a fighter-caster hybrid. I thought i explained this pretty well.

Yes, you did the first time. The the designer said:

Owen K.C. stephens wrote:
It's not really true that I expected a reaper mage to function as a true fighting-caster hybrid.

And then you *quoted* that (so clearly youd seen it), and then you replied with:

Question wrote:
The problem with the reaper mage as a true fighting-caster hybrid is that it has no way to increase AC and one means of increasing damage (reap), in addition to MAD.

Ignoring that you are wrong (see the designer's post about, for example fetishes for people who want those options; or consider the benefit of buffing with temporary hit points in advance instead of healing afterward), the designer told you it wasn't *supposed* to be a fighting-caster hybrid, and you responded by complaining you still don't like it as a fighter-caster hybrid.

It's a full caster. A single ability in one of its optional builds does not make it an attempt to recreate the magus.

(Nevermind that it significantly predates the magus)

So since you have been told it isn't supposed to do what you are complaining about, we're all a bit confused you continue to complain it doesn't do that thing well.

Even though, with fetishes, it does. (It can even heal itself, in case tones of temporary hit point options isn't good enough for some reason)

It's be like complaining the the minor and major magic talents don't make rogues good spellcasting hybrids, since *obviously* that's what those talents are designed for, and then continuing to harp on it after being told the talents *aren't* supposed to do that.


Owen K. C. Stephens wrote:

As I said, the reaper mage isn't designed to be a true fighter-caster hybrid, any more than a sorcerer with the abyssal bloodline is expected to be a fighter-caster because he has a class ability that gives him claws.

If you *really* want to make a melee reaper, obviously you don't want to stick in light armor bu high level. Go ahead and take Medium Armor Proficiency and wear a mithral breast plate. No penalty, since you proficient in medium armor, and no ASF, because it counts as light armor. I don't promise it's an optimum build, though.

You'll have the same average hp as someone with a d10 (okay, 1 less since you get 9 at 1st level, rather than 10), and a magic breast palte. If you really, really want a good AC I recommend pumping Dex and Cha, and also picking up Combat expertise, since you can add your Cha to one attack/round. I suppose you could pick up Vital Strike.

Obviously you'll want to focus on the classic touch attack spells -- chill touch, inflict wounds, ghoul touch, vampiric touch, bestow curse. Of course I think in most cases you'd be better off using spectral hand for those -- but most of them are witch spells too and witches don't get as many hit points, as good a bab, any armor, or spectral hand, so there is something to be said for being armored and heartier for touch spell combat.

Nor is it entirely true you can't buff yourself. Deathly pall gives you Str and hp (not much, but it's a 1st level spell after all, you have better false life options, and grave shield can be useful against many forms of special attacks. No, none of that is as good as a wizard or cleric, but it's not supposed to be. If you want buffing options as a death mage, you should select the fetish option for your death bond. (You can also gain yet more melee options this way -- deadly blow, instrument of death, and warding spirits, the last being a great way to boost your AC if you want to be closer to the front line as it's a luck bonus).

But all that is missing the point. A reaper mage is...

A reaper mage isn't particularly good at fighting undead, that's the problem.

Now a cleric, that's an example of a class that is good at fighting undead. A side by side comparison of the cleric with the death mage just shows that the death mage is seriously lacking. And the cleric also happens to a full caster.

A cleric has better armor. It has better saves. It is a full caster with a better spell selection. It can channel energy. It's pretty much the reaper mage on steroids without some of the flavourful abilities.

I think most people would agree that a melee class is poorly designed when it needs to take armor proficiency feats in order to survive in melee.

If the death mage isn't designed to melee effectively, then it is a gimped wizard. So you end up with a wizard that is just hiding at the back, casting necromancy spells, and being generally useless against undead, because those same spells do not work on undead (chill touch does not count). Reap is absolutely terrible in pratice (even sneak attack is better, and sneak attack is not exactly good in the first place). Pale road and death bond does not make up for a loss of all the wizard class features and most of their spell list.

If you are argueing that the death mage is designed as a full spellcaster first, then obviously it needs to be compared to full spellcasters. Which is where the comparison fails, as every full caster is hands down better than the death mage in nearly every way. Infact why don't we take this to general discussion and ask the usual balance experts to do a side by side comparison of the death mage as a full spellcaster vs, say, the wizard, cleric, druid, or anything else they can think of?

Few of the classic touch spells are any good. Why cast inflict wounds when you can full attack someone and do far more damage? Everyone knows inflict wounds only has one purpose, and that's for evil clerics to heal undead. Even spectral hand doesn't help, because you are spending one round doing something very ineffective.

Fetishes are cool, but mostly for utility and support (and lets be honest, the witch hexes do that better, and at least half the witch hexes are useless crap like poisoning crops or whatever). And even the witch has a better spell list than the death mage. I also can't figure out why save DCs and uses per day for some of the fetishes are based off three different stats (seriously, why? wasn't the class MAD enough?).


Offer is still open to get general discussion to compare the class with other full casters (wizard, druid, cleric...).

Scarab Sages Contributor; Developer, Super Genius Games

Sorry Question -- I try to be very active on these boards and am generally happy to discuss my design choices. But I live in an areas that just had a 17+ square mile area torn up by an EF5 tornado, and I lack much spare time. I need to focus on specific questions, errata, and brand-new questions until I have more free time.

If I can remember to do so when things calm down I'll see if I can enter some thoughts on the subject.


Ouch, that sucks. Hope you didn't lose anything from that.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Owen K. C. Stephens wrote:

Sorry Question -- I try to be very active on these boards and am generally happy to discuss my design choices. But I live in an areas that just had a 17+ square mile area torn up by an EF5 tornado, and I lack much spare time. I need to focus on specific questions, errata, and brand-new questions until I have more free time.

If I can remember to do so when things calm down I'll see if I can enter some thoughts on the subject.

I hope you and yours are safe and well. Take care.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Question wrote:


A reaper mage isn't particularly good at fighting undead, that's the problem.

Now a cleric, that's an example of a class that is good at fighting undead. A side by side comparison of the cleric with the death mage just shows that the death mage is seriously lacking. And the cleric also happens to a full caster.

A cleric has better armor. It has better saves. It is a full caster with a better spell selection. It can channel energy. It's pretty much the reaper mage on steroids without some of the flavourful abilities.

I think most people would agree that a melee class is poorly designed when it needs to take armor proficiency feats in order to survive in melee.

If the death mage isn't designed to melee effectively, then it is a gimped wizard. So you end up with a wizard that is just hiding at the back, casting necromancy spells, and being generally useless against undead, because those same spells do not work on undead (chill touch does not count). Reap is absolutely terrible in pratice (even sneak attack is better, and sneak attack is not exactly good in the first place). Pale road and death bond does not make up for a loss of all the wizard class features and most of their spell list.

If you are argueing that the death mage is designed as a full spellcaster first, then obviously it needs to be compared to full spellcasters. Which is where the comparison fails, as every full caster is hands down better than the death mage in nearly every way. Infact why don't we take this to general discussion and ask the usual balance experts to do a side by side comparison of the death mage as a full spellcaster vs, say, the wizard, cleric, druid, or anything else they can think of?

Few of the classic touch spells are any good. Why cast inflict wounds when you can full attack someone and do far more damage? Everyone knows inflict wounds only has one purpose, and that's for evil clerics to heal undead. Even spectral hand doesn't help, because you are spending one round doing something very ineffective.

Fetishes are cool, but mostly for utility and support (and lets be honest, the witch hexes do that better, and at least half the witch hexes are useless crap like poisoning crops or whatever). And even the witch has a better spell list than the death mage. I also can't figure out why save DCs and uses per day for some of the fetishes are based off three different stats (seriously, why? wasn't the class MAD enough?).

I disagree that the death mage is seriously lacking when compared with a cleric. I would agree that the death mage's spell list is considerably weaker then the cleric, but its class abilities are dramatically better.

Lets look at a reaper mage as that is the example you give:
It is meant as an opponent of undead, on that point we agree.
It is a charisma based caster, with light armor, and specific weapon proficiencies, among which are some of the best martial weapons in the game (scimitar for one handed, and falchion for 2handed).

The cleric is medium armor with only simple weapons and its deities favored weapon (some of which are good, many of which are sub par).

To me that puts armor and weapon proficiencies at pretty much a wash. AND unlike the cleric, who needs both wisdom and charisma for its abilities (spells, domains abilities use wisdom and channel uses charisma) the death mage ONLY needs charisma(this is excluding the TWO fetish powers that rely on wisdom, which while good, are not my first choices when making a combat focused death mage). This means they have more to put into physical stats. In terms of MAD, the advantage is to the death mage.

Spells are no contest, the clerics list is better, however the clerics role as 'healer' often means at least a portion of this resource is going to non-offensive situations. So while the clerics list is certainly better, what the death mage has, they are more likely to be able to use to take down undead. Also keep in mind there are some solid death mage spells in the Death Knight as well. Including the ability to gain fast healing and a 3rd level spell called disintegrate undead. Still the advantage is with the cleric.

Now, the part that is different. Class abilities. The cleric has precious few abilities that will help them fight undead beside simply channeling at them. In terms of actually mixing it up and fighting hand to hand, the reaper death mage has additional hit points (deny death is basically free toughness plus making it much harder to die), a swift action excellent attack buff (non of the clerics domain powers are swift action buffs, most are standard actions) that adds their primary casting stat to attack, and adds a scaling damage die.

In addition, there is the death bond fetish option, assuming a character has attuned their fetish to the target undead, they can add 1d6 damage against that type of target (deadly blow), you can hurl bolts of force at an enemy as a ranged touch attack (sympathetic strike) which is great for incorporeal undead, you can add your charisma to your AC against the target (Warding spirits) and you can make the fetish your weapon so you never have to worry about having it handy. Not to mention by 8th level you can get your charisma to your AC TWICE with the deflection bonus from Protection from the undead and your fetish Warding spirits.

You can do deadly blow, warding spirits and make the fetish your weapon by 5th level, thus allowing you to use a falchion as a weapon.

Big advantage to the Death Mage in terms of class abilities.

So to sum it up, the death mage has good weapon proficiencies for combat, the reaper mage has several solid melee combat abilities, and the fetish powers too give solid combat abilities. And while not as good as most casters, the spell list is far from useless in combat. If anything just the dance macabre spells are useful in just about any combat. They will also have better combat stats then the cleric because they only have one mental stat of major concern.

Basically a reaper death mage going to be excellent at combating undead, and good at combating anything its fetish is attuned to, and this is without having to expend as much in terms of actions as a cleric needs to buff, using better weapons, and with better stats. In the long run even without taking Armor feats, its AC will be better then a clerics if it takes the fetish power and much better when it has the protection from undead ability up. All the while it can still get better armor if it wants it with feats.


It's true that the death mage gets a better weapon selection compared to the cleric, but the cleric effectively gets a two feat advantage over the death mage...med armor and the ability to cast in that with no penalty. The death mage doesn't even get full martial weapon proficiency.

I will agree that the cleric is slightly more MAD because it needs a bit of cha too (although cha isn't a big priority). IIRC death mage fetishes have 3 different abilities needed though (int, wis and cha), and i don't understand why it wasn't based soley on cha.

I don't think the death mage spell list is good at all. With very few exceptions, most of the death mage spell list is simpl the arcane/divine necromancy schools, comprised mainly of debuffs (which don't affect undead), inflict wounds (for healing your own undead) and thematic spells that are generally useless in practice (chill touch). Most of these spells have no or very little effect on undead. The problem with designing a save or suck spell list is that it doesn't complement a melee spellcaster type at all, since you are always better off sitting in the rear casting said spells rather than trying to melee (unless your DM loves throwing fodder at you). The cleric doesn't even need to waste spell slots on healing, because cure spells are spontaneous and he has channel energy.

Cleric does get less class abilities, but that's because their main schtick is spellcasting. Buffing yourself or your allies and wading into melee is much more effective than the majority of the death mage's abilities. Free +1 hp per level is okay, but that's basically a free toughness feat. Reap, for reasons already discussed, is absolutely terrible (single attack, does less damage than sneak attack, limited uses per day). At bare minimum i would make it work on every attack in one round rather than simply one attack. Most of the abilities are not even anti-undead in nature (corpse mage for one).

I have to agree that some of the fetish abilities are very solid, but most are clearly for fluff rather than practicality. But they still do not compensate for having access to a proper spell list. Also you pretty much need to take the fetish power that makes your weapon your fetish, or it gets really problematic (im pretty sure you get a penalty for trying to fight with your fetish in one hand and your weapon in the other).

For example, even with deadly blow and a falchion, you are looking at a guy in light armor, doing 2d4 damage with a 14 str at best (MAD) and +1d6 due to deadly blow. This does not get better even at level 20. Meanwhile a cleric gets divine favor at level 1 which just keeps getting better and better.

Being able to get charisma to AC is really good, but it does create two problems. One, that it only works against targets which your fetish is attuned to, leaving you particularly vulnerable to first time encounters. This applies to all fetish abilities btw. Unlike the ranger, you are not really strong enough to fight non-favored enemies. Problem two : you NEED to take the fetish class ability to survive in melee, otherwise your AC won't be high enough.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Question wrote:

It's true that the death mage gets a better weapon selection compared to the cleric, but the cleric effectively gets a two feat advantage over the death mage...med armor and the ability to cast in that with no penalty. The death mage doesn't even get full martial weapon proficiency.

The death mage only needs a feat and specific equipmeent (mithral medium armor) that isnt 2 feats, that 1. If you are going to be that picky, the cleric would have to take weapon proficiency feats a half dozen times to equal what the death mage gets (the feat gets you only a single weapon remember, not all martial weapons)

Quote:

I will agree that the cleric is slightly more MAD because it needs a bit of cha too (although cha isn't a big priority). IIRC death mage fetishes have 3 different abilities needed though (int, wis and cha), and i don't understand why it wasn't based soley on cha.

I agree there, but they dont HAVE to take those other abilities, particularly if we are talking about a melee character. So its a choice. Channel energy isnt really a choice for clerics, its an important class ability for every cleric.

Quote:

I don't think the death mage spell list is good at all. With very few exceptions, most of the death mage spell list is simpl the arcane/divine necromancy schools, comprised mainly of debuffs (which don't affect undead), inflict wounds (for healing your own undead) and thematic spells that are generally useless in practice (chill touch). Most of these spells have no or very little effect on undead. The problem with designing a save or suck spell list is that it doesn't complement a melee spellcaster type at all, since you are always better off sitting in the rear casting said spells rather than trying to melee (unless your DM loves throwing fodder at you). The cleric doesn't even need to waste spell slots on healing, because cure spells are spontaneous and he has channel energy.

True, but they can just cast nothing but sommon spells. They can cast summon natures ally (dance macabre) or summon undead (from the death knight product). These are useful as extra damage, meat shields, and flanking buddies, all are useful to a melee character. So if they cast nothing but those spells, they still have useful spells to cast.

Quote:

Cleric does get less class abilities, but that's because their main schtick is spellcasting. Buffing yourself or your allies and wading into melee is much more effective than the majority of the death mage's abilities. Free +1 hp per level is okay, but that's basically a free toughness feat. Reap, for reasons already discussed, is absolutely terrible (single attack, does less damage than sneak attack, limited uses per day). At bare minimum i would make it work on every attack in one round rather than simply one attack. Most of the abilities are not even anti-undead in nature (corpse mage for one).

Stop moving the goal posts. If you are comparing against the cleric, compare against the cleric. Dont say reap sucks because its not as good as sneak attack. If you want to compare the reaper mage with the rogue that is a separate conversation, and requires a different set of comparisons.

Its better then any of the 1st level domain abilities that grant buffs to attacks. Those are all standard actions, and most are their own attack as opposed to buffing a normal attack, either way you've eaten your standard action. Reap is a swift action and thus can be combined with any kind of attack. Is it as good as smite evil? No but we are comparing against the paladin, we are comparing against the cleric. Its way betterh the single attack abilities (like fire bolt or Bleeding touch). its also better then strength surge because it doesnt eat a standard action just to buff.

And while yes cleric spells are awesome for buffs. In terms of buffing themselves they are at a disadvantage in terms of actions. Cleric buffs take time, if you dont have rounds to prepare before combat, they are in trouble, the death mage can buff as swift and move actions. Action economy is really important in pathfinder.

Quote:

I have to agree that some of the fetish abilities are very solid, but most are clearly for fluff rather than practicality. But they still do not compensate for having access to a proper spell list. Also you pretty much need to take the fetish power that makes your weapon your fetish, or it gets really problematic (im pretty sure you get a penalty for trying to fight with your fetish in one hand and your weapon in the other).

In terms of getting into melee it does in fact make up for not having a good spell list. The average combat lasts 3-5 rounds. Though the clerics spells are more versatile, they have to spend at least a round or two buffing (and thus not attacking) to get the benefits of their awesome spell list. A death mage doesnt.

Quote:


For example, even with deadly blow and a falchion, you are looking at a guy in light armor, doing 2d4 damage with a 14 str at best (MAD) and +1d6 due to deadly blow. This does not get better even at level 20. Meanwhile a cleric gets divine favor at level 1 which just keeps getting better and better.

It does get better, because by 8th level that divine favor has cost the cleric 2 attacks at least, the death mage has moved, attacked and is in position to full attack next round. The cleric has just cast his divine favor. The damage not done in that first round counts as an advantage to the death mage.

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Being able to get charisma to AC is really good, but it does create two problems. One, that it only works against targets which your fetish is attuned to, leaving you particularly vulnerable to first time encounters. This applies to all fetish abilities btw. Unlike the ranger, you are not really strong enough to fight non-favored enemies. Problem two : you NEED to take the fetish class ability to survive in melee, otherwise your AC won't be high enough.

First off, in many ways the death mage is less problematic then the ranger, as there is no limit to how many creatures a fetish can be attuned to, the death mage just has to have been nearby when it was killed. Generous dms might even let the death mage start the game with several common creature types already attuned (I would). And I would say the death mage has alot more effective options for non favored enemies then a ranger does. In particular, simply preping dance macabre and summon undead. Encounter something you arent attuned to, stay back and summon things instead of attacking yourself. A melee ranger cant do that.

Second, the deathmage needs to either take the fetish, or take armor proficiency feats and get mithral armor. Both would allow him to have good enough ac to get into melee, and the reaper death mage has the equivalent average hp of a d10 class. So yea if you want to be good at melee you take the options that work for melee. That is the way every class works. If as a rogue, I dont take weapon finesse with a 19 dex and an 8 strength, im not going to hit anything. Thats not the rogue class' fault, you have to create the character to work in the way you want it to.

Also you dont HAVE to take the fetish to contribute to melee, just to do it yourself. You could take deathbond, and put an unbreathing animal companion into some armor and send it in to fight for you. Problem solved.


I'm currently making a necromancer a game, and I saw 4 possibilities:
1) Cleric
2) Wizard
3) Death Mage
4) Sacred Necromancer by Zombie Sky Press (which I actually wrote half of).

While I wanted to play the death mage, a few things stopped me from doing that. The prime consideration was that while the death mage was good at necromancy, the cleric is good at necromancy as well as a number of other support things, and we could really use someone who could heal as well as support. I didn't see the DM to be so better at necromancy that to overcome what the support and healing capability the cleric had for the specific situation my party is in. Prior to this, I was working on a necromancer / crossbower that was using the death mage as the base class, and using the fetishes could sicken and shaken enemies he hits.

So that's that...

But on topic a bit more, I don't think it's quite fair to say it's a negative thign that if you want to melee, you need to take the fetish bond. The fetish bond is there if you want to melee, not the other way around. If you're going to be focusing on martial abilities, you aren't going to take the domain. That's if you want to focus on spellcasting. You aren't going to take the pet. That's if you want to focus on leading a horde. You're going to be taking the fetish.

And while you won't be doing as hot during the first encounter with an enemy type, in many ways that's true for most classes. If you aren't prepared and know a lot about the enemy, you're probably going to run into issues. If a ranger is fighting his first rhemoraz and he doesn't know about the damage he'll take if he attacks, that's gonna hurt. If the wizard doesn't know that the thing they're fighting is immune to mind-affecting effects, and he tries to use Dominate Monster on it, it's not going to go so well. And once your party works together to defeat the monster type for the first time, from then on out the Death Mage will be able to do pretty well against them. And during this first fight, it's not like he doesn't have any other options. He has his pale path and his spells, which as a necromancer, are pretty sweet when it comes to debuffs.

I think it's true that the reaper / fetish death mage isn't so great at sustained martial fighting up close, but that's because it seems more like a skirmisher class, or one that can fall back to martial capabilities when they aren't tossing out debuffs, or ordering their minions to trample their foes.


I'm kind of wondering, though, if the Death Mage couldn't have some "poltergeist" effects like grease and telekinesis, to patch some of their weak spots.


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Having played and GMed a few death mages, I can say that run properly they are extremely effective!

Dance macabre, by itself, makes them the better non-evil necromancers than any core rules character. That may not matter to other people, but it’s a big deal for us.

Also, fetishes are universally accepted as superior to any other option at our table. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I want more fetishes!

The light armor proficiency doesn’t exist to the death mage can pretend to be a magus or cleric. It’s there so the death mage doesn’t have to waste a round casting mage armor or something similar.

Pump Cha and Dex. Don’t worry about Wis and Int any more than you would for any character (Perception and Skill Piints are useful, but it’s not a big deal)

At 1st and 2nd level you don’t have fetishes anyway. Prep dance macabre and cause fear. Cause fear is awesome at low level, and since you automatically know all death mage spells there’s no reason not to use it. Like a sorcerer you fall back on a weapon if you run low on spells, but instead of a crossbow or dagger, you can take a falchion (and have a better attack bonus and hp than our theoretical sorcerer). Your arcane options are more limited than the 1st or 2nd level sorcerer, but either dance macabre or cause fear is always useful.

At third, you take fetishes, and gain two fetish powers. If you want to maintain melee as you back-up, you take death mask. (If not get a spiked gauntlet so you threaten so rogues can flank with you to sneak attack, and otherwise ignore weaponry). Death mask is flat superior to instrument of death, since you can do it as often as you lack and it lasts for hours and doesn’t cost anything.

Also for melee take deadly blow now and warding spirits at 5th or vice versa, depending on if you want to start with offense or defense.

A note on attunement. In our experience in a published adventure by 5th level you will be attuned to 90% of what you will run into for the rest of your adventuring career. Attuning isn’t expensive, doesn’t take long, and you can do it between encounters. Assaulting a drow stronghold and you’re not attuned to them yet? Hit a scout group, take a moment, and you’re good to go forever. It’s an awesome roleplaying consideration, but not a major power limiting factor.

If you aren’t making a melee death mage (and you don’t have to), ignore death mask for now. Warding spirits is still a great option (at 3rd level you may have the best AC in the group), but death focus, healing spirits, and sympathetic pain are also great choices.

Sympathetic pain, by the way, is one of the most powerful things SGG has ever released. A successful save just HALVES THE DURATION. Of a fear effect! Once you are 8th level, if a target *saves* they are shaken for 2 rounds. Next round you hit them again and EVEN IF THEY SAVE they are now frightened. And if you want, you can keep them frightened, no matter their saves, as long as you want to take the actions to do so.

No limit to how often you can do it. We’ve had AMAZINGLY effective death mages with this power alone. It’s the “save and flee” build. It’s SU, so SR does not apply. GMs learn you need to not depend on a single foe against a team with a Save And Flee DM.

And about being a one-school pony? It turns out that makes Spell Focus and Greater Spell Focus *awesome* choices, since they affect your most powerful spell at every spell level. Combine with your high Cha and death focus, and you may have the highest save DCs of your party.

About the time cause fear is useless? Scare. (And if you are a Save and Flee build? You pick off your Scare victims with sympathetic pain.) Scare gets too low-level? Take a break from fear effects and use ray of exhaustion. At 7th level, go back to fear effects with, well, fear. At 9th you have some options – magic jar, waves of fatigues, but if you are a Save and flee build just pick up Heighten spell and stick to fear. At 11th you may want a circle of death in your pocket for hordes, but otherwise its eyebite. (Sicken a foe a round as a swift action? Let’s see your debuffing cleric manage that!) Also, you melee types now get harm, which is suddenly a real threat.

All necromancy, the only school with major spells with Fort and Will saves, so you can target the effects based on whether the target looks wise or tough. Again, this allows the death mage to get a higher DC than most spellcaster, and thus his limited selections are effective more often.

Just ignore the Int & Wis question of fetishes. Healing spirits is worthwhile EVEN if you only have a 10 Wis. Don’t feel you need to boost it, it’s emergency healing not your main focus. But it’s a MOVE action, so you can get your reduced healing in AND make an offensive action. The cleric can heal more, but not without failing to help drop foes. Even the paladin can’t heal someone else and hit something. AND it's ranged! Those little details are obviously WHY it’s based on Wisdom – it’s healing based, and if you could do it all damn day based on your pumped CHA it’d be OP. You think of it as MAD, but I have seen it in play. It’s balance, and its brilliant.

(You CAN build a death mage to be primarily a healer. Lots of temporary hit point buffs before or early in fights, and lots of Wis for healing spirits. Ive seen it done. It's a lot like trying to make your bard the priamry healer.)

Same is true of sympathetic pain. If its save DC was based on CHA, it’s be WAAAY overpowered, As it is it’s extremely effective if foes NEVER make their saves!

AND the death mage has double the spell points of a cleric.

It is also a GREAT "fifth character," when the roles of cleric-type, rogue-type, fighter-type, and wizard-type have been filled.

The death mage is extremely effective AND flavorful as-is, and can easily hold its own against other character classes.


Don't Death Mages have the Shadow Conjuration and Shadow Evocation line of spells on their list as well, including the lesser and greater versions of these? That seems to give them a fair bit of additional flexibility as to what spells they can cast.


Those are great spells... but not against undead.


Why not? They aren't immune to them. Illusion spells aren't all mind-affecting.


Good Will saves and jacked up HD, for one thing.

Scarab Sages Contributor; Developer, Super Genius Games

Caedwyr wrote:
Don't Death Mages have the Shadow Conjuration and Shadow Evocation line of spells on their list as well, including the lesser and greater versions of these? That seems to give them a fair bit of additional flexibility as to what spells they can cast.

They have shadow evocation and shadow evocation greater, shadow conjuration and greater shadow conjuration, and new spells lesser shadow conjuration (3rd level) and improved shadow conjuration (6th level), initially to give them some shadow magic early (and yes, in part because of their narrow spell list), and then to give them a flexible rising tide of shadow options as they gain levels.


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The death mage only needs a feat and specific equipmeent (mithral medium armor) that isnt 2 feats, that 1. If you are going to be that picky, the cleric would have to take weapon proficiency feats a half dozen times to equal what the death mage gets (the feat gets you only a single weapon remember, not all martial weapons)

Mithral costs an extra 4,000 gp for med armor, which is significant except at high levels. IIRC you also need a feat to reduce ASF as you still have 15% ASF in mithral breastplate.

If a cleric really wanted to use a non-favored weapon, all he needs to do is take one feat for proficiency and not spend additional gold. It's a big difference.

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The death mage only needs a feat and specific equipmeent (mithral medium armor) that isnt 2 feats, that 1. If you are going to be that picky, the cleric would have to take weapon proficiency feats a half dozen times to equal what the death mage gets (the feat gets you only a single weapon remember, not all martial weapons)

I honestly don't see the point of class abilities that the player will never use. They really should all be based off one stat. I can't think of any good reason why they are split into 3 stats.

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True, but they can just cast nothing but sommon spells. They can cast summon natures ally (dance macabre) or summon undead (from the death knight product). These are useful as extra damage, meat shields, and flanking buddies, all are useful to a melee character. So if they cast nothing but those spells, they still have useful spells to cast.

And then the death mage becomes a gimped wizard or summoner.

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Stop moving the goal posts. If you are comparing against the cleric, compare against the cleric. Dont say reap sucks because its not as good as sneak attack. If you want to compare the reaper mage with the rogue that is a separate conversation, and requires a different set of comparisons.

Its better then any of the 1st level domain abilities that grant buffs to attacks. Those are all standard actions, and most are their own attack as opposed to buffing a normal attack, either way you've eaten your standard action. Reap is a swift action and thus can be combined with any kind of attack. Is it as good as smite evil? No but we are comparing against the paladin, we are comparing against the cleric. Its way betterh the single attack abilities (like fire bolt or Bleeding touch). its also better then strength surge because it doesnt eat a standard action just to buff.

And while yes cleric spells are awesome for buffs. In terms of buffing themselves they are at a disadvantage in terms of actions. Cleric buffs take time, if you dont have rounds to prepare before combat, they are in trouble, the death mage can buff as swift and move actions. Action economy is really important in pathfinder.

The sneak attack comparison was a way to illustrate that reap really is not a very good ability at all. Most people agree sneak attack is unimpressive, given 3/4th bab and other class limitations. The limitations on reap are even worse. You can't just look at it and go "oh well 2d6 extra damage against undead is awesome at level 1". Yea it is. At level 1. And then it quickly gets outscaled by everything else.

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In terms of getting into melee it does in fact make up for not having a good spell list. The average combat lasts 3-5 rounds. Though the clerics spells are more versatile, they have to spend at least a round or two buffing (and thus not attacking) to get the benefits of their awesome spell list. A death mage doesnt.

A single buff is better than all of the combat related fetishes combined. Oh look 1d6 extra damage that never scales! Very impressive! And one could also argue that the fetish doesn't work for the first enemy of that type you encounter.

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It does get better, because by 8th level that divine favor has cost the cleric 2 attacks at least, the death mage has moved, attacked and is in position to full at]ack next round. The cleric has just cast his divine favor. The damage not done in that first round counts as an advantage to the death mage.

An extra attack is not going to make up for the fact that you are swinging a weapon doing something like 2d4+str mod + 1d6 etra damage. In light armor with low dex. About to get full attacked by the enemy next round.

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First off, in many ways the death mage is less problematic then the ranger, as there is no limit to how many creatures a fetish can be attuned to, the death mage just has to have been nearby when it was killed. Generous dms might even let the death mage start the game with several common creature types already attuned (I would). And I would say the death mage has alot more effective options for non favored enemies then a ranger does. In particular, simply preping dance macabre and summon undead. Encounter something you arent attuned to, stay back and summon things instead of attacking yourself. A melee ranger cant do that.

Second, the deathmage needs to either take the fetish, or take armor proficiency feats and get mithral armor. Both would allow him to have good enough ac to get into melee, and the reaper death mage has the equivalent average hp of a d10 class. So yea if you want to be good at melee you take the options that work for melee. That is the way every class works. If as a rogue, I dont take weapon finesse with a 19 dex and an 8 strength, im not going to hit anything. Thats not the rogue class' fault, you have to create the character to work in the way you want it to.

Also you dont HAVE to take the fetish to contribute to melee, just to do it yourself. You could take deathbond, and put an unbreathing animal companion into some armor and send it in to fight for you. Problem solved.

Excet that anytime you are not in melee, you are a gimped wizard because that's what your spell list is. If you are sending in a unbuffed animal companion, it is not going to contribute much and you are basically a gimped druid.


Dungeon Grrrl wrote:

Having played and GMed a few death mages, I can say that run properly they are extremely effective!

Dance macabre, by itself, makes them the better non-evil necromancers than any core rules character. That may not matter to other people, but it’s a big deal for us.

Also, fetishes are universally accepted as superior to any other option at our table. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I want more fetishes!

The light armor proficiency doesn’t exist to the death mage can pretend to be a magus or cleric. It’s there so the death mage doesn’t have to waste a round casting mage armor or something similar.

Pump Cha and Dex. Don’t worry about Wis and Int any more than you would for any character (Perception and Skill Piints are useful, but it’s not a big deal)

At 1st and 2nd level you don’t have fetishes anyway. Prep dance macabre and cause fear. Cause fear is awesome at low level, and since you automatically know all death mage spells there’s no reason not to use it. Like a sorcerer you fall back on a weapon if you run low on spells, but instead of a crossbow or dagger, you can take a falchion (and have a better attack bonus and hp than our theoretical sorcerer). Your arcane options are more limited than the 1st or 2nd level sorcerer, but either dance macabre or cause fear is always useful.

At third, you take fetishes, and gain two fetish powers. If you want to maintain melee as you back-up, you take death mask. (If not get a spiked gauntlet so you threaten so rogues can flank with you to sneak attack, and otherwise ignore weaponry). Death mask is flat superior to instrument of death, since you can do it as often as you lack and it lasts for hours and doesn’t cost anything.

Also for melee take deadly blow now and warding spirits at 5th or vice versa, depending on if you want to start with offense or defense.

A note on attunement. In our experience in a published adventure by 5th level you will be attuned to 90% of what you will run into for the rest of your adventuring career. Attuning isn’t...

A cleric, wizard or druid can do pretty much everything you mentioned, such as going into melee or casting fear/summon X, except they do it much better. That is the problem.

Sympathetic pain is absolutely terrible. Shaken is not amazing, and you are essentially spending one round doing nothing but do a single target shaken effect, that requires you to hit, that requires you to hold a fetish in one hand (read : can't wield your weapon properly), and the DC will be laughable at higher levels because it scales off the wrong stat. At level 20, the typical death mage will be using this with a DC 20 fort save. How many CR 20 monsters have difficulty make DC 20 fort saves?

If you want to do fetish style attacks, go witch, take slumber and other hexes.

The fact that you think this is a "save or flee" attack suggests that your group misread the rules.

As for one school pony being effective...no. You get the exact same spell DCs as any caster who takes the same two feats (which they WILL take). A cleric who takes weapon focus with his favored weapon is not going to be somehow better than the fighter who takes the same feat just because he's more limited. As written, the only thing that allows the death mage to get slightly higher spell DCs as anyone else is the fetish ability. Which is a grand total of +1 DC. Meanwhie, you have witches, kitsune/fey sorcerers, and probably some other combinations who can get much higher spell DCs.

I have no idea what you mean by spell points.

Here's a challenge : please post the death mage build that you found so effective. We will then take it to general disussion and ask for a build contest and see if anyone can make another character that will be more effective than said death mage. Deal?


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Question wrote:

Sympathetic pain is absolutely terrible. Shaken is not amazing, and you are essentially spending one round doing nothing but do a single target shaken effect, that requires you to hit, that requires you to hold a fetish in one hand (read : can't wield your weapon properly), and the DC will be laughable at higher levels because it scales off the wrong stat. At level 20, the typical death mage will be using this with a DC 20 fort save. How many CR 20 monsters have difficulty make DC 20 fort saves?

If you want to do fetish style attacks, go witch, take slumber and other hexes.

The fact that you think this is a "save or flee" attack suggests that your group misread the rules.

The fact you think we misread the rules suggests you have no idea how either sympathetic pain or fear effects work in play. If it didn't have so many limitations, it would be way, way OP. It is, in fact, MOST powerful at high level. It's a game-winner at 20th level.

Yes, there is a touch attack. Those very rarely miss even for wizards, and the DM has a better attack bonus.

Now, take a 20th level DM. Let's say he has an Int of 4. So the save DC of this power, which takes two hands to use, is a pathetic 17. Let's further assume that no foe fails a save against it ever, in the history of the character.

It's STILL his most powerful option.

Round one, peg a foe with sympathetic pain. It makes its save, obviously. It is now shaken for 5 rounds. This is because the duration is 1 round/2 DM levels, and a target that makes its save HALVES THAT DURATION.

I pointed this out above, very carefully.

Round two, DM hits the same foe with sympathetic pain. It saves. It takes a new shaken effect. Oh, but what happens if you take a shaken effect while already shaken?

Becoming Even More Fearful: Fear effects are cumulative. A shaken character who is made shaken again becomes frightened, and a shaken character who is made frightened becomes panicked instead. A frightened character who is made shaken or frightened becomes panicked instead.

So, the old shaken runs 4 more rounds, the new one 5 rounds, so for 4 rounds the target is frightened. And what does that mean?

"Frightened: Characters who are frightened are shaken, and in addition they flee from the source of their fear as quickly as they can. They can choose the paths of their flight. Other than that stipulation, once they are out of sight (or hearing) of the source of their fear, they can act as they want. If the duration of their fear continues, however, characters can be forced to flee if the source of their fear presents itself again. Characters unable to flee can fight (though they are still shaken)."

Even a measly 8th level DM can now keep a target frightened forever -- just keep hitting it with sympathetic pain which EVEN WHEN THE FOE SAVES runs 2 rounds.

But you wanted to see what happened to a 20th level foe. Well, on round 3 the DM uses sympathetic pain again, and AGAIN THE FOE SAVES, so its shaken for 5 more rounds. But it's already frightened! What does that mean? Panic!

"Panicked: Characters who are panicked are shaken, and they run away from the source of their fear as quickly as they can, dropping whatever they are holding. Other than running away from the source, their paths are random. They flee from all other dangers that confront them rather than facing those dangers. Once they are out of sight (or hearing) of any source of danger, they can act as they want. Panicked characters cower if they are prevented from fleeing."

The target's saving throw bonus DOES NOT MATTER. Heck, immunity to mind-affecting effects doesnt matter, because the totem power isn't one (both because it doesn't say it is, and because it's a Fort save). SR doesn't help, because it's a supernatural ability. Only immunity to fear can save you.

Two rounds to force nearly any foe to flee you. By 12th level, in three rounds you can panic targets even if they make every single saving throw.

Now, since you said hexes are a better option, how about you show me the witch built that can even come close to being that useful?

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