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The masked superhero with a secret identity. This is the concept behind this class. Yet it fails to take into account the world in which that character exists. The masked superhero don's a mask to rise above the world around him. But what happens when the world around him has heavily armored juggernauts wandering the streets accompanied by people who can call down lightning bolts from their deity and people who can warp reality to imprison someone in a block of ice - and seeing them walk down the street means it is Thursday? A flying lizard the size of a house just landed in the middle of town? Oh, that just means it's the second Tuesday.
Ok perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but the fact remains - PCs and giant monsters are not that uncommon. And the Vigilante is meant to join the ranks of the PCs. How does he fit in? The answer is not very well at all. Oh sure, in his masked persona he can pass as one of them, maybe even be mistaken for one of the other PC classes. But he's not quite on par with them. There is a reason for this - he leads a double life. He is not just a PC, he has a Dual Identity. He had to trade off some of his ability as a PC in exchange for this power.
[Dual Identity] is the defining feature of this class, and at the same time the Achilles' Heel of this class as well. What it grants you is a divination shield, protecting you from the various divination magics that instantly reveal your secret identity (a mechanical patch to make the whole secret identity thing work). However it does so by turning you into NPC Man - a pale shadow that inhabits the background of the PC's story. No, really, this guy falls somewhere between commoner and the other NPC classes.
As if that wasn't bad enough, it also suffers from netrunner syndrome where this ability becomes it's own little side game that doesn't include any party members that it doesn't apply to. ("I'm going to change into NPC Man now, the rest of you can go out for waffles, and don't forget to bring back take out for me and the GM.")
Oh, and as has been pointed out numerous times by others, while you can freely change between identities, it takes 5 minutes until level 13. Which means unless you are in your masked persona, you are sitting out the action (or are stuck trying to survive it as NPC Man).
Honestly, the best way to sum up this class as written is "NPC who moonlights as a PC".
The divination shield is a necessary feature for enabling secret identities, but it could have worked better as a feat.
The concept of living 2 lives has merit, but in a world where PCs casually walk among the masses forcing one of those lives to be NPC Man is immersion breaking. I get that giving the Vigilante 2 full PC classes would be overpowered, but this class would be much cooler (about 20% cooler) if you could do things like Paladin by day and Vigilante by night. (it would also justify 5 minutes to change identities since you would need to change out of your easily identifiable Paladin armor). Maybe it could be done:
"A vigilante picks a second class (PC or NPC) for his secret identity. When in vigilante identity, all features of the social identity class are lost and replaced by those of the vigilante class. When in their social identity they retain only those vigilante features that specify being available to the social identity."
(note: this could result in some power creep, especially in the from of a BAB boost, the skill boost should probably not be too disruptive)
Final point: I have not gone into detail about the Vigilante specializations. This is probably infuriating the Devs as I suspect they had intended this playtest to focus on assessing and balancing them. They are weaker than their full base class equivalents, but that was already known. The problem is that determining how much weaker they should be is dependent on what one is getting in exchange for the trade off. At worst we have a vague "stuff" and at best we have an "NPC secret identity that cannot be uncovered by divination". I say worst and best because the worst gives no basis for comparison and the best is what has been clearly defined. It's like evaluating the fighter without access to any feats. You know there is more to the class but it is and undefined value of "and stuff". If however there is no "and stuff" for the Vigilante, then they are clearly giving up too much for too little.
Sidenote: This class makes an interesting proof of concept for replacing the multitude of base classes with a single customizable class.
I'd actually prefer the Social Identity keep everything that isn't fear or intimidate based. That way you could have your social identity be a gentleman adventurer who goes out at night with a mask and punks criminals.
By contrast, I would very much like it if the social persona got some real power to be quite dominant in its preferred milieu (non-combat, intrigue-style settings), while the vigilante persona serves its role in traditional beat-'em-up settings. I and others have suggested getting social talents (either at the same time as, or maybe better yet alternating with, vigilante talents) to give strong, positive reasons to want to be in the social persona where it's appropriate.
Also so you don't become useless if jumped.
Speeding up the ID change would help with this. So, potentially, might some of the social talents, if they were designed to operate that way. (For example, a build that mirrors the infamous "princess" warlord in 4E.)
I don't think you should lose any abilities of the vigilante side when you're in the social side. You should lose all of your social side abilities when you're in vigilante, but if you use any vigilante abilities in social then you have a chance of people discovering that both identities are one and the same. And seriously, switching personas should be 2-3 rounds, not five minutes.
So Sir Walter is a good fencer, he doesn't stop being a good fencer when he switches identities, but if he starts running around using Reprimander's signature sword-and-shield style and Reprimander constantly shows up only seconds between sightings of Sir Walter, people might get suspicious. Bruce Wayne is still Batman, he just has to be careful not to show that he knows every martial art ever when a robber comes to Wayne Manor. Batman, though, doesn't get to show up in the Wayne Industries board room and make company decisions, because Wayne's abilities are social and don't carry over. If Batman does show up and start bossing people around, then it'll blow his cover.
I think Jason has already stated that the persona switching is getting shortened and changed so that isn't much an issue
ALSO...I don't get the netrunner issue. In games I have played in, the party face is often doing most of the work in certain situations. It's not really changing anything here, and nothing says that the other PCs won't be doing other stuff. Pretty much every show dealing with spies and teams is able to pull this off.
In TV shows, the spy and the rest of the team do not ordinarily know what the other is up to and part of the suspense is whether things are going according to plan or whether you're about to have a heap of trouble dumped on you.
In a tabletop RPG, to reach the same level of tension and immersion you wind up needing to physically split the group. Yes, the TV show has cuts between the two scenes, but when the GM has to leave the room to go do her thing with the vigilante, the entire rest of the party is stuck waiting about.
With a non-UI party, you might run into that it would be cutting against the grain... the GM would be putting it in to shake things up. With a vigilante, the key aspect of the class emphasizes this entire other identity built around social skills, to the extent that it seems the baseline combat mode is notable reduced in efficacy. Including this class in an adventure practically cries out to force an increased level of social gameplay. This is fine, but it means even larger portions of the game where the rest of the group really can't contribute.
Put another way, every single class, including archetypes, can contribute in combat. Even rogues and monks. Other systems like kingdom building can be used pretty equally regardless of class or build. The vigilante's biggest aspect, Dual Identity, only becomes noteworthy if sufficient emphasis is placed on purely social, non-combat activity, a type of gameplay which many other classes cannot contribute meaningfully to. Certainly not without major sacrifices to their combat ability (i.e. feat and skill selections). The concern then is that inclusion of vigilantes implies either a vastly increased number of social encounters that will likely exclude most of the party or a vigilante character that is mostly engaged in non-social settings and therefore could have been replaced with a far more effective class/build selection while keeping the same concept and backstory.
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Pre: Character level 7
This feat functions as Leadership, but your cohort is your own character's secret identity. Changing between identities takes one minute, and can be included in the time it takes to change outfits and/or armor.
You may choose if any given follower is aware of either or both of your identities.
You may not take this feat and Leadership. If you gain Leadership as a bonus feat, you may take this feat instead. This feat counts as Leadership for meeting prerequisites.
Interestingly, when Paizo first split from WoC 3.5 rules, they streamlined many of the rules that played superfluously, such as their new perception skill which incorporated spot, search, etc. But these rules seem to do the opposite and introduce variations of skills and feats that could mostly be attributed to an already existing mechanic or nerfed class ability. One of my least favorite aspects of newer RPGing is the lack of RPing. I have a character a long time ago that was a 'vigilante' type with alter-ego and all the necessary skills and feats to pull it off. 90% of the fun was the role playing and a DM who encouraged it.
I am a long-time Champions GM as well and see a lot of parallels to those rules, which are great. But for me, I would encourage players and DMs to embrace role playing again and using the already burgeoning class archetypes to create unique viable characters.
I know Paizo prefers new classes and class archetypes to prestige classes, but it really seems like better fit for what they want to do here.
The power balance of vigilante feels like "take any other class and splash three levels of expert", so an easy-entry couple-a-level prestige class that grants secret identity shenanigans might give the same effect with a quarter the page count.
Likewise they could use the variant multiclassing rules and come up with 5 feats that add the same flavor to any existing class.
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After having seen the interview with Jason and getting a better idea of the Devs position and viewpoint (as well as some clue as to what we didn't get in the playtest) I'll append this note on fixing the most outstanding issues of the class (Dual Identity):
- The social identity needs access to class features. This is a must and a deal breaker for the class. Each specialization needs about 6 talents that can also be used by the social identity, otherwise it is completely stripped of class features. Signature talents and 'Shock and Awe' talents can stay limited, but there need to be enough that are usable in both identities to make both sides function as PC classes.
- The time to change between identities is too long. While I presume it was intended to include the time to change in and out of armor, it ends up being overly penalizing. I can see it taking at least 1 minute for 1st level characters, with a note that donning armor rules apply and may extend the time.
- The full round action switch between identities come way too late. It should be kicking in by around 6th level. By that point a non-vigillante character with a couple of magic items (hat of disguise and glamored armor) is doing it better.
That still leaves the last issue of integrating a vigilante with an adventuring party without secret identities. In another thread I compared this with Power Rangers - "Except with only one ranger morphing into civilian identity and the rest of the group going about their daily business in their ranger identities. I mean no one would ever suspect the guy hanging out with 4 of the 5 rangers is the 5th ranger."
As you can see there would still be outstanding issues, but these are more inherent in the concept itself (a natural tendency to divide the party) rather than the mechanics to implement it.
I still feel this concept would be best served with mechanics that integrated it into the existing base classes rather than a parallel base class (an opinion I've seen voiced by several others), but the fact that we are playtesting this class pretty much means that the decision to go this route has been made.
As for the talents themselves, they aren't amazing (some are definitely interesting, but not "where have you been all my life" amazing), but they aren't cripplingly bad (a term that could be used to describe Dual Identity as presented). Fixing the Dual Identity would bring this class to a place where it just needs dialing in.