October 18, 2018

Vestige Structure | Rebinding

In this series, I'll be slowly tackling a rework of one of our favorite classes, the Binder. The class was originally a straight update of the class of the same name from D&D 3.5's Tome of Magic, including most of the original vestiges, but as we revisit this class, we'd like to examine its mechanics and its concepts with fresh eyes, improve upon them, and write a whole new list of vestiges. 

This time, we're talking about how vestiges are presented and organized.

Presentation and Organization 

When you're dealing with something as big and complicated as the Binder, presentation is key. If the final version of the class looks too hard to digest, DMs will reject it on principle. If it's easy to digest but has too many mechanics to keep track of, players will reject it after one session. There's a fine balance to be struck.

Last time we approached the binder, we simplified it massively from the 3.5 version, but it still needs more work. Lots of vestiges just had too many individual features, where three to four solid features would have sufficed. Moreover, the fluff features were contained within their own feature at the end of the vestige description, which meant that players often read through the entire vestige before learning critical context needed to understand it.

To demonstrate the vestige structure we'll use this time around, let's create a placeholder vestige (details subject to change):

Tilo, the Colossus
2nd level vestige
Once a brave but tiny mousefolk knight, Tilo is a giant in death, granting his binders great weapons and incredible size.
     Legend. Tilo was a mouseling knight, small of stature but brave in spirit. In his youth, he traveled the world as an knight errant, doing honorable deeds where he could, and searching for a master worthy of his blade. At last, he arrived in the southern kingdom of Osira, where he saw the golden knights of the royal guard, and instantly knew he wished to be among their number. At first thinking Tilo to be a new court jester, the king mirthfully accepted his service.
     When the kingdom was beset by a terrible goblinoid army, Tilo led the defense. Eventually, the castle's defenses crumbled and the keep's outer wall was breached. As the other golden knights off the royal guard fell, Tilo alone held the breach, and held it true for seven days and seven nights.
     In life, he was tiny, but Tilo died a colossus. Due to his courage, his king escaped, and the legends of Tilo's bravery propelled him to persist in the Void as a vestige.
     Personality Trait. When you bind this vestige, you gain the following personality trait: "I never fear anything larger than myself." 
Bonus Proficiencies
While bound to Tilo, you gain proficiency with martial weapons. 
Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting
When you roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an attack you make with a melee weapon that you are wielding with two hands, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll, even if the new roll is a 1 or a 2. The weapon must have the Two-Handed or Versatile property for you to gain this benefit. 
Colossal Size 
You can cast the enlarge/reduce spell as a bonus action to gain the "enlarge" effect of the spell once without expending a spell slot or spell components. Once you cast this spell, you can't cast it again in this way until you finish a long rest. 
Trait: Powerful Build
You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift. Additionally, you can wield heavy weapons without penalty, even if you are Small size.
First and foremost, we're front-loading the legend and the personality trait. They're located right under the vestige's name, so it's clear to whom they belong. For basic text, I think this approach works well, but perhaps the best approach will be to compartmentalize vestiges in boxes, like monsters in 5e generally are. More experimentation is needed on that front.

Feature Outline

To simplify things, we've reduced vestiges down to four features with a huge focus on the core concept. Here's the basic outline that we can generally follow moving forward:

The Simple Passive. (Bonus Proficiencies) This slot might include armor proficiencies, cantrips, darkvision, skill enhancements, movement types, or other basics which help the vestige work.

The Passive. (Fighting Style) The example for this vestige is still pretty basic, but this slot can hold defensive features like Uncanny Dodge, magic resistances, alternative movement types, or different methods of attacking. This feature is going to change a lot with the vestige, but should define what the vestige is about and (generally) not be use-limited. If the vestige absolutely needs two good passives, a second good Passive should replace the Simple Passive slot. If the vestige is all about spells, this feature should be a few lower-level spells.

The Active. (Colossal Size) Every vestige needs a great ability which sets it apart, but is limited in number of uses. Ideally, this should complement the Passive ability and be powerful enough to earn the vestige its level. If the vestige is all about spells, this feature should be one or two higher-level spells.

The Trait. (Powerful Build) Each vestige always has a physical trait, and now we're integrating them as features with direct mechanical benefits. The hope here is that we can write archetypes and vestiges which can call out Trait features specifically to make these features central to specific types of builds. For example, a feature might say "If you have a vestige Trait which grants you a weapon attack, you can make an attack with it as a bonus action."

19 comments:

  1. This looks like a really exciting and flavorful class! When can we be expecting to see more of this?

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    1. I plan to do one post a week, nailing down features, subclasses, vestiges and so forth, until we've got a beta version together. I'll do some of it behind the scenes, but I want to build most of it in public.

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    2. That's an awesome idea. I just went back and read the rest. It's like a much more focused version of Mike Mearl's Happy Fun Hour. I love it!

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  2. "If the final version of the class looks too hard to digest, DMs will reject it on principle."

    Yep, this is me. I have a confession -- I *love* the original Binder class, though as a perpetual DM I've never played it. Despite that fondness, I don't think I've ever read the entire class document because it was just too daunting. As such I've been extremely happy to hear about the Rebinding project, and this post in particular really solidifies to me the idea that you guys are taking a much more comprehensible approach that I'd be happy to offer at my table.

    Great work so far.

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    1. Thank you! I feel that this is going to be a challenge to get right, even if we start by aiming in the right direction, so I'm hoping that developing this publicly will be a big help in making sure we get everything right.

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  3. I have a question about the personality trait " I never fear anything larger than myself" does this have any mechanical advantage? Like advantage on dragon frightening?

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    1. Personality traits never have a direct mechanical impact. A benevolent DM might allow some circumstantial bonuses, but don't count on it.

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  4. Oh my god i love tilo and i have a goblin for this.

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  5. Seems really cool. How many Vestiges do you plan to make?

    The UA Mystic, for example, was in some way similar to the binder (could choose different whatchamacallems and gain features) and was looooooooooooooooooong. Hopefully the Binder won't be as long and tedious.

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    1. I actually don't have a solid answer for this; I'll be tackling it in two articles' time. My initial thinking is that out last binder was _close_ to the right number, but a little high. In particular, I think we are going to need to do 4-5 vestiges at 1st level, then include (I think) 3 at each subsequent level. That gives us a total of 28-29? Maybe closer to 25, if levels 7-9 only have 2 vestiges per level.

      Thus, we've got a problem. That's a lot of vestiges, but any fewer and it won't feel as though you have enough choices as a binder.

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    2. What about some ability to bind vestiges at a higher level? It might allow you to have fewer vestiges but with more options. It might also give players a reason to keep a favored vestige around longer.

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    3. That might be a good idea; A vestige could have a lower binding level and a higher one that give 1-2 additional features.

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    4. I've got to cost-benefit analyze this suggestion. On one hand, it gives lower level vestiges a reason to be bound later, but it does two things I don't enjoy: it complicates the binding system (which is currently "You can bind vestiges whose combined level is no greater than your binder level"), and it also will make vestiges a solid bit longer, since we'd need to include an "At Higher Levels" clause. That said, I think this would hurt the class in more ways than it would help it.

      I do have some plans to emphasize the use of lower-level vestiges, which we'll talk about in two articles' time.

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    5. I could imagine there being a permanently bound vestige of 1st or 2nd level from level 17, akin to wizard's ability to cast a spell at-will. But yeah, since it's gonna be addressed in another article, we'll just have to see.

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    6. Finger: It would make each vestige longer but would allow for less vestiges, and I think that being able to bind a vestige as lvl 2 or 7 doesn't add that much complication. Also, less vestiges would mean each is easier to remember.

      That being said, It might not actually make the class as a whole shorter or simpler, which is the real issue, hence- not worth the trouble.

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  6. Glad to finally see the structure vestiges are going to have! I like how the name now incorporates the title too, sure it makes only one line of difference, but it should be easier to remember for the players now. It could also be easier for DM's who want to use only the titles to make the vestiges seem more mysterious, like I do. Good job!

    If you were to put these traits into a statblock, I vote against putting the lore of the vestiges into statblock. Keeping that outside of the statblock will keep the statblock brief and more effective. One thing that I would definitely advise is to make them a color different from the default yellow - that way it'll be easier to tell vestiges apart from ordinary monsters when skimming through the book, looking for something.

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    1. That's a good suggestion: keeping the statblocks feature-only allows some space with normal text, including the lore and titles, to space out the feature boxes themselves, making them easier to parse. The challenge with any sort of boxed material is that it doesn't line-break well, so it might make it difficult to page-format without a load of white space. As I mentioned, it might take some experimentation to get it right.

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  7. In the above example, the physical trait feature (powerful build) is described mechanically but not aesthetically. Can we expect the description's final draft to include how the physical traits will appear?

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    1. In the cases where it's relevant, totally. For example, if your vestige grants you a gaunt face which improves Intimidation, that description comes as part of the feature.

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