River Steward (Ranger)


Round 2: Design an archetype

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 7

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River Steward (Ranger)
In the politically turbulent River Kingdoms, many rely on the fleeting stability between wars and upheavals to eke out a mundane existence. River stewards make this possible, becoming guardians of their local regions, protecting both its land and its people. Their bond to the land is so strong, it becomes a form of symbiosis.

Stewardship (Ex): The river steward selects one named region of the River Kingdoms. Within that region, the river steward gains +1 to all attack and damage rolls against natural threats of this region. Natural threats include creatures of the animal, fey, humanoid, magical beast, monstrous humanoid, plant, and vermin types.

At fifth level, and every five levels thereafter, the river steward may choose another region. At these intervals, the bonus within any one region (including the one just selected, if so desired) also increases by +1. Alternately, instead of adding a region, he may add a creature type to the list of threats this ability affects.

This ability replaces favored enemy.

Steward’s Vow (Su): The river steward swears an oath to protect and guard over each of his chosen regions. In return, the land itself assists him against his enemies while the steward is fighting outdoors in any of his chosen regions. If the river steward deliberately causes harm to his chosen region, he permanently loses these abilities.

At 2nd level, the steward can cause the ground at one target's feet to clutch at the creature. On a successful combat maneuver check, the target is flat-footed until the start of the ranger's next turn.

At 6th level, branches and grasses interfere with his opponent's strikes, bestowing a -2 penalty to any attack aimed at the river steward.

At 10th level, the land aids him on a charge, granting the river steward the ability to charge over rough terrain and through friendly creatures in his path.

At 14th level, he can make a Stealth check to vanish in natural surroundings, even while being observed. He does not need cover or concealment to use this ability.

At 18th level, the river steward can make a pounce maneuver after a charge, as the pounce ability in the universal monster rules in the Bestiary.

This ability replaces all combat style feats, camouflage, and hide in plain sight.

River Mastery (Su): At 3rd level, the river steward can cross any river within one of his chosen regions at his regular movement rate.

In addition, he gains +1 on Climb, Knowledge (geography), Knowledge (local), Perception, Stealth, Survival, and Swim checks within these regions, and can make such Knowledge checks untrained. This bonus increases by +1 at 8th level, and every five levels thereafter.

This ability replaces favored terrain.

Founder, Legendary Games & Publisher, Necromancer Games, RPG Superstar Judge

Initial Impression: Using regions is a nice touch and a good tie to the River Kingdoms. But does it do enough? Losing favored enemy for regions is a good swap, but losing all combat style feats and other abilities for the Vow seems like a poor swap to me. The River Mastery for favored terrain? I'll be interested to hear what Sean and Wolf say about the crunch here. As you can tell from my other reviews, because Sean and Wolfgang are so intensive in the crunch, I am focusing on the bigger design issues, the big picture, the concept, the idea. I think you have a good idea but I dont think the execution is fully there. Good luck, the voters may see it differently.

I DO NOT Recommend this archetype for advancement.

The Exchange Contributor; Publisher, Kobold Press; RPG Superstar Judge

Christopher, congrats on making the Top 32! Your ranger archetype is in the most hotly-contested class for archetypes this time, and unfortunately that does weigh against it slightly from sheer volume and the inevitable repetition of elements. That said, I think you do some interesting things here.

As to the crunch, I think that Steward's Vow is actually full of strong combat options, and the fact that River Mastery is not as good as favored terrain is probably fine here. A bunch of addition skill bonuses are not as compelling as favored terrain, but flatfooted, (effective) +2 AC bonuses, and charge bonuses help. I have some mechanical questions on some of these though (how do you harm a region?

My main design concern is that because this character is locked to a region, you're less likely to see this as a wandering adventurer type. The archetype reinforces the desire to just stay home and defend a small patch of land.

Not recommended for advancement.

Designer, RPG Superstar Judge

Stewardship: The biggest problem with abilities like this is it means the character loses many class abilities when away from that region. That's fine for an NPC in that region, or if you know the campaign is going to stay in that region, but for a PC likely to wander more than 10 miles from home, that's a drastic limitation on the character's utility. You get additional regions every few levels, but you have to hope that the campaign doesn't take you out of those regions for long. And the option to add another creature type instead of a region is blurring whether this is a region ability or favored enemy—if you know you are going to stay in the same region, this is a better choice than taking favored enemy because you get your bonus against SEVEN creature types instead of just one. So it's either a broken-good choice or a broken-awful choice.

Steward’s Vow: This needs to be written as separate abilities replacing each of the base class's listed abilities, instead of "you get A B C D, and lose W X Y Z."

The 6th-level penalty from branches and grasses wouldn't have any effect on incorporeal creatures, which is why we normally have this sort of effect provide a typed bonus to AC rather than a penalty to attacks.

The 14th-level ability is hide in plain sight, normally granted at 18th level. So you're either replacing a 14th-level ability with an 18th-level ability (which I recommend against archetype advice thread, see #7) or you're replacing the 18th-level ability with... the very same ability.

River Mastery: I don't know what this means. Does this means you can swim across at your normal base speed?

There are a lot of mechanical problems here, and the "locked to a region" problem as well, which could be a feast or famine for this character depending on the nature of the campaign.

I do NOT recommend this archetype for advancement.

Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

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Wolfgang Baur wrote:
My main design concern is that because this character is locked to a region, you're less likely to see this as a wandering adventurer type. The archetype reinforces the desire to just stay home and defend a small patch of land.

I would not be overly concerned with that - the archetype would work really well in certain Adventure Paths (Kingmaker specifically).

The rules for Round 2 required an archetype strongly tied to the River Kingdoms. An archetype that is tied strongly to the Campaign Setting is not required to be universally applicable (see for example the archetypes Winter Witch, Razmiran Priest, and Chelish Diva) - it is in fact the beauty of Campaign Setting archetypes, compared to universal archetypes, that they can tie themselves to an idea, a land, a person much stronger than a the universal archetypes.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka theheadkase

You took a bold swing here. Good theming, if a little...obvious. It also kind of reminded me of Tom Bombadil...but less.

Sean hit the points that struck me when reading. You give Hide in Plain Sight at an earlier level and different name. Incorporeals.

Strong ties are good...cement shoes to a region are bad.

This really struck me as an NPC class...not a PC class.

Overall, I like your ideas but your mechanics just aren't there for this round.

I do NOT recommend advancement.

Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka Clouds Without Water

My plan is to comment on all 32 archetypes. We'll see if I make it!

I will give general impressions, but with 3 areas of particular focus that suit my personal interests. Archetype and feat names: do they show flare? How closely tied to the River Kingdom is the archetype? And last but certainly not least, do I want to play this archetype?

Archetype and feat names: Average. I think you would have helped yourself if the powers under Steward's Vow had been individual abilities with names. Which they should be anyway.

River Kingdom tie: Slightly above average. You have the tie to a named region, which makes sense in a place like RK. But it doesn't have a strong tie to the area.

Desire to play: Below average. I don't think you should be penalized for tying the class close to the area, that was after all the assignent. An archetype for the RK. Surely a region of the RK has enough adventure for 5 levels, right? However, I don't see anything here that would make me prefer this over a base Ranger, even in a purely RK setting.

Star Voter Season 6

This is a great NPC archtype. I would never play it as a player, and don't know anyone who would. Even in Kingmaker, I'm not sure the bonus is worth the tradeoff in utility.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 8 aka nate lange

go use of the template; your writing is not bad but (IMO) you should avoid using words like "symbiosis"- its so anachronistic and technical that it immediately pulls me out of the setting... it's also not entirely accurate (it refers to creatures drawing life/nourishment from each other- i can see making an argument for the land metaphorically drawing life from the blood the ranger loses in its defense, but it makes it seem like there is/should be powers in the archetype that will allow the ranger to somehow be healed by the region, or function as if wearing a ring of sustenance within it...)

in terms of game balance: i think you did an alright job. stewardship is probably about balanced with favored enemy (more types affected, but lower bonus and to less things) if you're going to be mostly in your favored region; in a standard campaign it's way weaker (but nobody would take this archetype in a standard campaign). river mastery needs clarification (is it a swim speed or a walk on water effect?). i actually don't mind that you moved HiPS up- its limited to your region, and still 8 full levels later than a shadow dancer would get it (3 later than anyone can take it with Improved Eldritch Heritage [Shadow]). pounce worries me because its a very potent ability that they're not really giving anything up for it (aside from one feat- every melee character would gladly make that trade). overall this does feel like more of an NPC class; PCs will only use it if they're confident the campaign will be almost entirely within their regions and if that's the case it is a little bit too powerful.

Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 9

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Sorry, but I didn't like this archetype. Mechanical issues themselves aside, the biggest and first thing that turned me off was how the flavor and the mechanics seemed to work cross-purposes:
flavor... "[river stewards are] guardians of their local regions, protecting both its land [...]"
mechanics... "all attack and damage rolls against natural threats of this region. Natural threats include creatures of the animal, fey, humanoid, magical beast, monstrous humanoid, plant, and vermin types."

Personally, those are the only things I would consider natural to the river kingdoms. So a guardian against internal threats, maybe, but a guardian of the land? Not with bonuses versus animals, plants and fey. I know they can be the occasional threat, but it feels... wrong.

There are other concerns, too, like the total loss of most class abilities when more than a few miles from home, but they've been pretty well covered already.

Good luck in this round, and the next if you make it!

Star Voter Season 6

theheadkase wrote:
Sean hit the points that struck me when reading. You give Hide in Plain Sight at an earlier level and different name. Incorporeals.

Hide in Plain Sight had to be re-added (though maybe not at a lower level). It normally works with Favored Terrains, not with "Favored Regions," so without re-adding it with a tweak for regions, the River Steward would be without it.

I sort of like the flavor of incorporeals not being affected by the entanglement effects. It makes more sense to me that that way, given the flavor of the land helping the River Steward. I would be surprised by the flavor of the land granting the River Steward an AC bonus instead.

I think some of the wording needed a little tightening. In particular, the "River Mastery" needed a few more words, and given that the Stewardship stuff is definitely the most controversial part of this template, it needed some more polish.

I like the mechanic. It makes this template different from a regular Ranger without ruining it. That said, I would change the last sentence of the first Stewardship paragraph read "Natural threats include the River Steward's choice of five creature types from the following list: animal, fey, humanoid, magical beast, monstrous humanoid, plant, and vermin." Then, every five levels, he could add a region or a type.

Digression on Template Scope:
This template looks to me like the same degree of change as the Skirmisher from APG, which takes spells away. The Skirmisher I'm playing is only 5th level, though, so maybe at later levels I'll change my mind. on the validity of the Skirmisher. Notwithstanding, that's the level of class change I was looking for in the templates.

Overall, though, I feel that this has good ties, and would do well in a Kingmaker AP. It has my vote.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Champion Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9 aka GM_Solspiral

Good: Strong Rls tie, well written.
Bad: Another Ranger + River Freedoms, you just needed a stronger tie to water to hit the over designed trifecta.
Ugly: Not loving the vow for combat feat swap.
Overall: not a fan of this, not getting my vote.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16 , Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Star Voter Season 8, Star Voter Season 9 aka JoelF847

I think Sean summed up my thoughts pretty well - locking it to certain regions = NPC only, and there's just a lot that doesn't work very well mechanically. I wasn't clear on how the vow works - do you make a CMB check every round against all foes as a free action to hinder them with the land (since the land is doing it, nor you), or do you have to target one guy as a standard action at range (and what range). Also, several parts of this mention branches, grasses, etc. What if those terrain elements aren't present in the combat location (say, if you're inside or underground in your region, or on a river instead of in the woods, etc.) I also wasn't clear on what river mastery actually does - do you water walk, swim at land speed (and if so, do you still need to make swim checks), etc.

Finally, this could just as easily be a Varisian protector, Taldan defender, or Texas marhsall, with ties to protecting their home turf, but beyond that, not a lot that's specifically river kingdoms.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka surfbored

It seems like this archetype polarized some of the voters/judges, especially with your choice to go all-in with the RK tie in.

This kind of baffles me, since an RK tie in was a very specific criteria of this round. So, for what it is worth, I think you met the tie in requirement with flying colors. Anyway, let's break this sucker down...

Christopher Dudley wrote:

River Steward (Ranger)...

River? Steward. Yeah, the name suggests he takes care of the rivers, not the lands or the people in the lands. I like your flavor paragraph though, except for the last sentence, which feels stunted to me.

Christopher Dudley wrote:

Stewardship (Ex): The river steward selects one named region...

Okay, now I'm a little confused. I like the crunch of this ability, but if you're sworn to protect the land and people, isn't beating up on the contents of the lands counter? Unless you're literally protecting the land (i.e. dirt)?

The ability doesn't fit the theme. Perhaps if the list was instead: aberration, construct, ooze, outsider, undead and subtypes of demon, devil, extraplanar, and incorporeal? Since all these types are not technically "natural" to RK.

Christopher Dudley wrote:

Steward’s Vow (Su): The river steward swears an oath...

Yikes, that is one big oath! Again, I like most of the crunch here. Not just a bunch of +/- modifiers. But this needs to be broken up so we can easily read, compare and reference. I'm not even sure if the trades are balanced because I don't have the time to figure out which matches with what.

I do like how you continued to sprinkle flavor in with crunch. It's what brings the crunch alive (even if some read it too literally).

Christopher Dudley wrote:

River Mastery (Su): At 3rd level, the river steward can cross any river...

Here you tripped. The first part of the ability is unclear, and then you tacked on a whole bunch of +1 bonuses. I know favored terrain tacks on bonuses too, but this was a chance to do something better.

Perhaps you should've considered replacing hunter's bond with river's bond and then granted some cool water-related stuff? Like how the ground and plants helped earlier, now the water attacks as an animal companion?

OVERALL: I like how you swung for the fences on RK theme, the flavoring of abilities and several of the abilities you chose. But the execution lacked finesse in places and that hurt you overall. And while your archetype is strongly tied to RK, it's not as restrictive as several other entries.

Good luck!

Dedicated Voter Season 7

Visually speaking, I would have preferred the Steward's Vow oath to have a separate listing at the bottom, followed by what abilities would be lost if the vow was broken. This would let you divide the rest of the Steward's Vow ability into the expected "ability A for ability B" chunks for easier comparison.

Still, I'm intrigued by the idea, all criticisms by previous posters aside. But I have to ask for a more general definition of what constitutes a "region." As written, you don't just lock the river steward to an area--you lock him to THIS area, for reasons that aren't explored.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16 , Marathon Voter Season 6, Marathon Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Dedicated Voter Season 9 aka motteditor

I think I was a little frustrated with this one. I thought having the Steward's Vow work in conjunction with the favored terrain would have made more sense -- instead, I'm getting a favored region, which feels a bit similar to me.

I can see that would cause some problems -- you don't get favored terrain until third level after all -- but it just seemed an odd conjunction to me to get a new slightly more arbitrary favored region.

Still, I like a lot of where you were going with the idea. I'm just figuring out what I'll be voting for now, but this is in the running.

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32 , Dedicated Voter Season 6 aka Evil Paul

The biggest problem I have is with the concept. Basically you are a ranger who gets a bunch of miscellaneous bonuses when defending certain regions of the RK, and doesn't get them when abroad. How is that exciting? You are still, in looks and flavour, just a ranger and an archetype has to bring a new and interesting concept to the table, especially in this competition.

That might not have been a blocker if all the misc bonuses were cool and well executed, but I (and others above) have problems with a bunch of them.

S.Vow, 2nd level - does this work if they are not on the ground? What if they are standing on stone, metal or glass? As Joel Flank says, what action is this (standard/free etc)?
S.Vow, 6th level - again, this works for flying opponents and also opponents the ranger is not aware of. How odd. You'd have been better to give brambles with +2 nat armour bonus here I think.
S.Vow, Oath - what counts as "harming his chosen region?". Does cutting down a tree, or killing an evil treant who has lived there for centuries count? What about killing a goblin chief that causes a chain of events that unleashes a necromantic horde? Etc...

These are quibbles. As I say, my real problem is the concept.


I agree with Mr. Reynolds on the Stewardship ability. It is either awesome-good, or useless.

Now, I don't think tying the archetype to a region is a bad idea. Making this ability useless outside the region really isn't all that different than manking the Favored Terrain ability useless outside the favored terrain. So, in my eyes, that's not the problem.

However, the problem lies when the ability IS active. When you are in your region, it covers too many creature types. Half the creature types, in fact (Not covered: abberation, construct, dragon, giant, ooze, undead, outsider). Unfortunately, that equates to more than half of your encounters since "humanoid" covers quite a lot, and as you stated, those selected are the natural enemies (ie. most likely to be encountered).

I get the opposite reaction when I read Stewards Vow. I'm not sure what you get is worth giving up 5 feats and 2 abilities. Also, the 14th level benefit from Stewards Vow seems to do basically the same thing as "Hide in Plain Sight" (acquired at 17th level), which is one of the things you are giving up.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 7

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First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to read my archetype, whether they voted for it or not. But of course, if you did, thank you very much. I'd also like to thank the judges for their kind words at the beginning of the thread. And I would like to thank everyone who has posted here with their criticisms, both positive and negative, as I find every single one to be highly instructive and constructive evaluation. Although I suspect that as the voting ends and the next phase gears up, these threads will be largely abandoned, I would still like to respond to some of the posts, and perhaps clarify what was going on in my design mind.

To avoid the Wall of Text, I'll enclose my replies in spoilers.

Replies to Judges:

Wolfgang Baur (and others) wrote:
My main design concern is that because this character is locked to a region, you're less likely to see this as a wandering adventurer type.

That was a calculated risk. I recognized that it did limit the character's effectiveness outside of his region, but then a core ranger fighting someone other than his favored enemy turns into something of a substandard fighter anyway. I decided to go with a stronger tie to the region, and in the end, perhaps I put too high a percentage of my eggs into that basket.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
The 6th-level penalty from branches and grasses wouldn't have any effect on incorporeal creatures

I facepalmed when I read that. OK, that was an oversight. If I'd only stuck the word "corporeal" in to describe which enemies it affects, I could have dodged that criticism. Ironically, my submission was 449 words.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
we normally have this sort of effect provide a typed bonus to AC rather than a penalty to attacks.

I wavered on that, honestly. I had originally written it as a dodge bonus to AC, but then envisioned the judges saying "How are the branches interfering with the attacker granting an AC bonus? He's not dodging anything. That should be an attack penalty." In the end, that seemed the more sensible place to put it.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
The 14th-level ability is hide in plain sight, normally granted at 18th level.

I did that deliberately because, as has been pointed out down-thread (thank you bstern for noticing), when I removed "Favored Terrain" the 17th level (not 18th) ability became meaningless. But what I should have done instead was this:

River Steward should have wrote:
Hide in Plain Sight (Ex): While in any of his chosen regions, a river steward of 17th level or higher can use the Stealth skill even while being observed. This alters Hide in Plain Sight.

So you're right that it's wrong but it's wrong in a different way, which was clumsy of me. If I were to resubmit, I'd ditch River Mastery altogether and use those 50-odd words to increase the awesomery of the Vow.

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
River Mastery: I don't know what this means. Does this means you can swim across at your normal base speed?

That was the intent of the text as I left it, but I suppose it was ambiguous. My original intent was to have this ranger be much more mobile, given things to swing on, jump on, and make special maneuvers with. In the original text of this one, I stated that there was always sufficient floating debris on the river for the river steward to step across the river with no more than a 10' leap at a time.

The idea was that the powers depended on a supernatural connection to the land, and the land provided the things the ranger needed. But by enumerating all the ways in which the land helped the steward, I ran up hard against the word count.

It was harder than I'd thought, within the Pathfinder rule set, to explicitly detail my archetype's abilities as I'd envisioned them, and therein lay the principal challenge to me in this stage of RPG Superstar. I have begun to experiment with RPGs where the players have more narrative control, and could use that control to state that they're swinging on a vine or a branch, or hopping from log to log across a river. And I've been bringing that kind of narrative control into my home Pathfinder game. However, in Pathfinder RAW, the player really needs to specifically ask the GM "Is there a log I can jump to? Is there a branch I can swing on?" And that was where I hit the biggest speedbumps in my design.

Replies to Voters:

RonarsCorruption wrote:
So a guardian against internal threats, maybe, but a guardian of the land? Not with bonuses versus animals, plants and fey. I know they can be the occasional threat, but it feels... wrong.

An interesting criticism, and one that never occurred to me in design. I envisioned the class as someone who was expert at handling all the kinds of things that normally come up in their region, and generally protecting them from each other. But I can see how you (and several others) would interpret it from the other side of the paradigm, and I should have considered that.

Joel Flank wrote:
do you make a CMB check every round against all foes as a free action to hinder them with the land (since the land is doing it, nor you), or do you have to target one guy as a standard action at range (and what range).

You're right, I had not named the range for that. But as for action type, I believe the rules state that a (Su) ability is a standard action unless otherwise stated.

Joel Flank wrote:
Finally, this could just as easily be a Varisian protector, Taldan defender, or Texas marhsall, with ties to protecting their home turf, but beyond that, not a lot that's specifically river kingdoms.

This was my biggest concern after sending it, and I was surprised none of the judges called me out on it. However, after all was said and done, I did (and still) feel that the connection is deeper than just the flavor text, and as the River Kingdoms is many small named regions, it still felt like a decent fit with lots of options remaining.

Marco Polaris wrote:
I have to ask for a more general definition of what constitutes a "region."

I meant the named regions of the RK as defined in the supplement. Pitax, The Stolen Lands, Sevenarches, etc. Sure, some are bigger than others, but some favored enemies are more common than others, too.

Most of the other criticisms were variations on those points.

In the end, I submitted what I felt was a good effort, and did my best to make it a professional piece of work. I see where I stumbled on those goals, and I feel that much better prepared for the next round or the next year.

Again, thank you to everyone for taking the time to read my archetype and think about how it fits into the game. Thank you for voting. I am grateful for this opportunity to compete. Every comment posted to my archetype has improved my ability as a designer. You have all given me much to think about.

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