View Full Version : Building a Dragon Monster Progressions is no piece of drake...

Aotrs Commander
2010-05-06, 02:43 PM
So, assuming the thread title pun didn't put you off...

I'm having a bit of a struggling balancing out a dragon monster class progession. I think, for it's intended power-level and purpose, it's NEARLY right, but just not quite. I think's it's reasonably to quite powerful numerically, as it stands, but I don't think it quite DOES enough. That is to say, while it's mechanically powerful at hitting people, it's got a mild case of Fighter syndrome in that it, as stands, it a bit too much of a potential one-trick pony. I'd appreciate some input from you wise folks, or just some good old-fashioned idea brainstorming. (Or a better thread title...)

The Background

As always when I posting something up, I like to explain exactly why it is I'm doing the thing I'm doing, so give some context, so bear with me!

I'm attempting to balance my dragon class progression. My current campaign world is a heavily modifed one, with the entire MM(s) (races and all) tossed aside and the whole bestiary re-imagined and re-designed from scratch from mythological sources. Basically, everything has been re-designed to be more like a character progression and aiming for CR = ECL like characters. This is particularly true for the monsters, as they are supposed to be roughly as viabale as humanoid characters, a fact which the ground-up rebuild has made more possible. (As a broad comparsion, imagine a game set in Narnia, where a talking animal would be a viable character choice.) My preference is always been NPC over monster, due to optimisation (and the general lack thereof in most monsters) and to a campaign world not strewn with monster-of-the-week odd races and strange monsters that haunt D&D's later MMs (and it's past ones, for that matter!)

While I was at it, I also tackled the magic system (attempting to sweep Vancian casting away - though that issue is irrelevant to the current topic) and the wealth/equipment system. I've had a few too many campaigns where the PCs got too much wealth and it ended up in a tight spiral of having to give the NPC kit to challenge them, which meant they get more kit etc. "It's your gear, not you" also doesn't have a flavour I like much, either. And animals weren't at all dangerous, which I really didn't like. Obviously, fixing these issues would normally require a massive re-write, but since I was starting from a fresh, blank slate, it didn't matter.

So, magic items are vanishingly rare and Do Stuff, rather than Make Stuff Have More Numbers. Instead, all creatures and monsters gain level-based bonuses which approximate the level of numerical bonus items an average character would have. I won't go into too much detail, because the variations balance out in this comparison, except to mention that creatures wielding manufactured weapons and armour gain an enchancement bonus to all weapons and armour at 2nd and every 4th level thereafter, and one to natural weapons every 6th level; I mention this as it has some bearing later on.

The yardstick for power in this game, then, is character classes. As everything gets standard level-based class features (feats, skills, stat point every 4th level plus the aforementioned not-equipment bonuses). Monster progression is basically a combination of race and a specific class. There is no LA at all (really), as all that is subsumed into the class progression, which (unlike most of WotC's progressions) is supposed to be competative with regular character classes. All my monster classes starts at level one and has a fixed set of levels you must complete before you can do anything else (e.g. multiclass). Some, like dragons, once they finish this basic class, can multiclass as normal or carry right on into an 'advanced' monster class; others end at the basic class level and advance by character class. Because the "it's you, not your gear" thing, monster classes are not quite so screwed as to equipment. Generally, though a larger, nonhumanoid creature is sort of intended to be fairly tank-like; i.e. pretty good at flat-out physical combat. (Usually due, or course, to natural armour, Strength and Con). So that's sort of partly their niche, which is to be tougher (but broadly less flexible) than humanoids.

The designed environment is mid-to-high optimisation, with weaker classes being somewhat boosted to a competative level. (Fighter, for example, is allowed a feat every level and gains special bonuses on some feats based on number of fighter levels - and they have to be levels of fighter; you can't qualify for them as a warblade, because they're not feat pre-reqs - which, while not much, seems to make fighters good for the type of environment in my game.)

Also, primary opposition will always be characters and not monsters. Indeed, as evidenced by the existsance of this thread, intelligent monsters are being
made into character class. The world this dragon class is specically designed for expects to have non-humanoid PCs (of which the dragon is merely one), and there will be a large degree of flying enemies (so flight is not quite so much of an advantage all by itself, since everyone expects to have to fight flying creatures on a fairly frequent basis.)

Pathfinder-type skills re being used, e.g. retoactively based on Int, +3 if a skill is a class skill, otherwise x skill points a level and no cross-class or synergy bonuses. (And a few skill combinations like PF as well.)

The Monster Class

The dragon class progression has a basic six levels, at which point the character can choose basically three specialisations; physically and breath-weaponly hitting stuff (brawler drake), more magically orientated (magic drake) or shapeshiftingly-hidey-amongst-the mortals (shifter drake). For the purposes of this exercise, I'm going to treat each as a seperate progression, though in practise, you could change between them.

The class table below combines information from several other tables to show what you actually get at each level for the first 20 levels (i.e a regular character ECL build). The BABs and save in parenthese include the mods from the racial stats, to show hiw far they are above the "normal" baseline of a creatu without the stat boosts. At the bottom is a row for a hypotheical 20HD progression without any of the stat bonuses, to give a comparision
at level 20 or the various numerical stats. Yes, I know, I've only really compared at 20th, so there's probably some mid-range skew, but if I can get a good end point, I can scale the rest in more smoothly at a later point.

(Okay, I know at least some small fraction of you are liable to hyperventilate about how brokenly overpowered this class (because it has high passive numbers!) To which I will amiably say "Druid 20/Cleric 20" and yes, the game is in an environment where CoDzilla is known at least half abused. Just take dep breathes and remember that until it's actually stronger than those two, it's not too overpowered by comparision...!)

Level/ Fort Ref Will
ECL HD BAB Save Save Save Skills Brawler Drake Magic Drake Shifter Drake
1st 1D12 +1 +2 +2 +2 6/HD Dragon Subtype, Tiny (20í, Fly (50íPoor), Bite (D4), Breath
(6) Weapon (30í), -2 Wis
2nd 2D12 +2 +3 +3 +3 6/HD Natural Armour (=HD-1), Claw attack (D3)
3rd 3D12 +3 +3 +3 +3 6/HD Speed 30í, Fly Speed 75í (Average)
4th 4D12 +4 +4 +4 +4 6/HD Blindsight 60í
5th 5D12 +5 +4 +4 +4 7/HD +2 Int, +2 Wis, +2 Cha
(+5) (35)
6th 6D12 +6 +5 +5 +5 7/HD Speed 40í, Fly Speed 100í (Average).
(+6) (42)
7th 6D12 +6 +5 +5 +5 7/HD Increase to S (+4 Str, -1 AC/Attack), Bite D6/Claw D4,
(+8) (+6) (42) Breath Weapon (40í), Fly 100í (Average)
8th 7D12 +7 +5 +5 +5 7/HD Directed Breath, Dragon Spellcaster Alternate Form,
(+9) (+6) (49) Bonus Feat level 1,Eschew 1 Favoured Form
materials, Summon
9th 8D12 +8 +6 +6 +6 7/HD Bonus Feat, Dragon +1 Dragon Spellcaster Dragon Spellcaster
(+10) (+7) (56) Spellcaster level 1, level level 1, Eschew materials,
Eschew materials, Summon Familiar
Summon Familiar
10th 8D12 +8 +6 +6 +6 8/HD +2 Int, +2 Wis, +2 Cha +2 Int, +2 Wis, +2 Cha +2 Int, +2 Wis, +2 Cha
(+10) (+8) (64)
11th 9D12 +9 +6 +6 +6 8/HD - - +1 Favoured Form
(+11) (+8) (72)
12th 9D12+9 +9 +6 +6 +6 8/HD Increase to M (+4 Str, +2 Con, -1 AC/Attack), Bite D8/Claw D6, Wingslam (D4) , Breath Weapon (50í),
(+13) (+8) (+8) (72) Fly 150í (Poor)
13th 10D12 +10 +7 +7 +7 8/HD +1 Dragon Spellcaster
+10 (+14) (+9) (+9) (80) level
14th 11D12 +11 +7 +7 +7 8/HD Bonus Feat - -
+11 (+15) (+9) (+9) (88)
15th 12D12 +12 +8 +8 +8 8/HD - +1 Dragon Spellcaster +1 Dragon Spellcaster
+12 (+16) (+10) (+10) (96) level level
16th 13D12 +13 +8 +8 +8 8/HD +1 Dragon Spellcaster - -
+13 (+17) (+10) (+10) (104) level
17th 14D12 +14 +9 +9 +9 8/HD Bonus Feat +1 Dragon Spellcaster Bonus Feat
+14 (+18) (+11) (+11) (112) level
18th 14D12+ 14 +9 +9 +9 9/HD +2 Int, +2 Wis, +2 Cha +2 Int, +2 Wis, +2 Cha +2 Int, +2 Wis, +2 Cha
+14 (+18) (+11) (+12) (126) +1 Favoured Form,
19th 15D12 +15 +9 +9 +9 9/HD - Bonus Feat -
+15 (+19) (+11) (+12) (135)
20th 15D12 +15 +9 +9 +9 9/HD
+45 (+23) (+13) (+12) (135) Increase to L (+8 Str, +4 Con, -1 AC/Attack), Bite 2D6/Claw D8/Wingslam D6, Tail slap (D8),

(142.5) +3M Breath Weapon (60í), Fly 150í (Poor) (total Natural Armour +13); all natural weapons +3
(+25) (16/17/16lvls class features)

20th class progression
20th 20D12 +20 +12 +12 +12 8/HD All weapons +5
(130) +5M (160) (20lvls class features)

Breath Weapon (Su): The Dragon may use itís Breath once every D4 rounds. The breath weapon is a line of energy of the Dragonís subtype, dealing D6 damage +D6 for every two HD after first (Reflex save for half against DC 10+Ĺ HD+ Con modifier).

Bonus Feats: Brawler Drakes gain a bonus feat at 8HD and every 3rd HD thereafter, which may be selected from Metabreath, Monstrous or Fighter feats. Magic Drakes may choose a bonus Metamagic feat at 15HD and every 10th HD thereafter. Shifter Drakes may choose a bonus Monstrous feat at 14HD and every 8th HD thereafter.

Directed Breath (Ex): A Dragon can spend a use of itís breath weapon to target a number of adjacent 5í spaces; up to half itís HD as a Standard Action or up to itís HD as a Full-Round Action. The Dragon must have line of effect to each space, and each must be adjacent to the last space targeted (except the first), but other than this the Dragon may place them as it likes (even in three dimensions). The target spaces must all be within the dragonís maximum breath weapon range (see the dragon size table). All within a targeted space take breath weapon damage, with a Reflex save for half damage (DC 10+ĹHD+Con mod), along with any additional effects the breath weapon normally causes. Targeting the same space twice does not increase the damage, but each successive time the square is targeted (or for every square a large creature occupies that is targeted), the save DC increases by +1. A Dragon may apply Metabreath feats or spells it knows to a Directed Breath attack if it wishes.

As a Full-Round action, a dragon may fly up to itís speed and use itís Breath Weapon (targeting up to half itís HD spaces), optionally targeting spaces it passes over during movement. If it wishes to breath into spaces above or to the side, it must rotate itís body; the breath is always aimed Ďbelowí the dragon (due to the fact it needs to see where itís going which it can do by looking down, but not up or to the side). If it flies in a straight line, it may make a double move and target one space per HD, but all the targeted spaces must be in a straight line along the dragonís flight path either above, below or in front.

Alternate Form (Su): At 7 HD a Shifter Dragons gains the ability to assume the form of any humanoid, animal, monstrous humanoid, giant or magic beast of between their size and Diminutive, provided that form does not have an ECL higher than the Dragonís. Dragons can shapeshift a number of times per day equal to half itís Dragon HD. It takes a standard action to do so. Once in the new form, they remain in that form until they change again. A Dispel Magic or Anti-or Null-magic field will not turn them back into their natural shape (though in the latter two cases they may not be able to shapeshift again until they leave the area). The Dragon will assume the form of an average member of the species. If killed, the Dragon will revert to itís natural form (the form the Dragon spends most of itís time in recently out of itís Dragon or favoured forms counts as itís natural form).

Favoured Form (Ex): At 7 HD a Shifter Dragon gains Favoured Form. At 9 Shifter Drake HD, and every 5 HD thereafter, the Dragon gains an additional form. Favoured Forms use the Dragonís base physical stats (before Dragon racial or size modifiers), plus the creatureís racial bonuses. Favoured Forms are also treated as natural forms for the purposes of effects that force shapeshifters to change shape. A favoured from is one the Dragon uses often, and is a specific individual of a species rather than a generic member. A Dragon shifting into another creature of the same species looses the benefits of favoured form. Thus, a Dragon might have the form of a human adventurer. If it shifted into another human, it would lose the benefits of Favoured Form. In addition, the Favoured form will be approximately the same physical age as the Dragon (to a maximum of a young adult if the Dragon desires). Usually, Dragons will have a humanoid race as a favoured form (typically human).

You start the class at Tiny Size. Because a dragon increasing in size is net bonus (as they don't get less dextrous) and the bonuses are siazble, I decided that I would basically charge a level for a size category increase. As it stands, three times in the 20 levels you increase in size instead of gaining a level. (Or rather, you increase in size and get a shed-load of stat boosts, but no extra HD). Twice during the progression, you gain no additional HD, but gain a bonus to all three mental stats. So basically, you have a 15/20 HD advancement over 20 levels. However - and it's a pretty big however - those 15 HD are dragon HD, giving you full BAB, good saves and 6 skill points. Thus class-based stat gains just about out-weigh or equal the lost HD as compared to a 20/20 HD/ECL progression without the stat boosts, considering both sets of base stats to be 10.

You get a +6 to Con over the levels, so at ECL 20, you're 15D12+45 is actually slightly better than 20D12.

Likewise, the +16 to Str about compensates for the loss of BAB (which natural weapons don't use so much anyway). Further, the fact at ECL all creatures in the campaign world have effectively +3 natural weapons at level 20 and all creatures have effectively +5 weapons and armour means the numbers are about equal (the dragon loses a point of attack, but gains a very rough average of 1-2 damage per attack (average over all it's natural weapons, about half of which only get 1/2 Str) verses the average damage the 4-6 attacks a character using manufactured weapons gets).

The Int boosts, considering only racial boosts, gives you effectivey 9 skills/HD at levbel 20 (which is more than 6 x 20HD, but less than 8 x 20HD). However, your maxiumum skills will be 5 shy of the maximum for 20HD (for Dex), 2 shy with Con, Int and Cha, 4 shy with Wis but about 3 points ahead with Str (because of the racial stat gains). You win some, you loose some.

Saves are likewise about equal (Ref being a "medium" sort of save), Fort and Ref roughly balancing out with the increase to Con and Wis.

So. The class's basic numbers are within the right order of magnitude (unlike most WotC monsters class). Numerically, the dragon is a good brawler; with flight, and a passable skill-monkey. They are fairly sturdy and can tank quite well, plus they have their breath weapon. Overall, numerically, the dragon is
a strong class. No problem there.

The problem is, at the minute, is rather the lack of class features (not counting the nonHD-levels, there's 3-4 dead levels in each progression, for starters). As most of the class features are "more numbers" the dragon doesn't really DO a lot. Sort of the same problem as the Fighter, but starting from a vastly more competative base. This is pretty much how they were designed, dragons are intended to by primarily people-thumpers with a few extras. The three dragon classes give you something, but I don't think it's quite enough yet. The spells, in particualr, are getting close to useless, since they are so weak and so late. (One option might be to let their caster level equal their HD, and least then what few spells they'd have would be effective, more so with their ability boosts).

My current big problem is what I can or should add, without overpowering them, given the powerful base statistics. They should have SR and DR somewhere (though not too much and too quickly), but again this is a passive ability, and the dragons need something more to DO.

The upper ceiling for the power curve would be druid or cleric. I.e., I don't mind if dragons come out as tier 1 (they are frellin' DRAGONS, Great Drakes, at the end of the day.) So, they want to be balanced out around the upper tiers, rather than the fighter end of the tier. (Despite that in my games, my slightly upgraded fighters generally continue to contribute and do really well; which I guess is good for me that I don't have the problem to the same extent as some!)

Some possibilities I'm considering:

Give the dragons HD and related benefits at all levels they don't increase size, i.e. two extra HD and a 17/20 HD/ECL progression. This would push their base thumping numbers up a bit, but is more consistant and reduce the skill-rank shortfall.

Give them earlier and slightly better spell progression, perhaps with caster level (but not spellcaster class level) be based more towards dragon HD, giving them at least comparable CL to similar ECL casters.

Give them more feats, a la fighter, which would allow them to have a few more tricks, other than Breathe 1/D4 rounds/fly/full attack and, at higher levels, light buff self or allies.

So, assuming anyone made it through the whole post (and if you have read this far, award yourself 50XP and cup of tea and a custard cream...) does anyone have any better ideas or other comments? Have I missed any glaringly stupid errors anywhere? Do you think I'm worrying over nothing? Do you think I'm mad for trying this? (Well, yes, I imagine most of you do, but that's no change, there. 'Specially since it's true...)