November 29, 2018

Class Table Debates | 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. 

It's time we talk about the all-important class table -- the beating heart of any class.

20 Levels

Getting the class table right is perhaps the single most challenging task of assembling any class. There are 20 levels to fill,  each of which must get basically one feature per level, with the most important class features landing before 5th level and with the archetypes starting before 4th. Moreover, the first and second levels can't contain an unwieldly number of features or have anything too powerful, since that incentivizes people dipping into the class for one level. This process also determines the distribution of subclass features and ability score improvements. There's a lot to get right.

Also, there's a lot of other norms to follow: powerful features happen at 5th, 11th, and 17th, while Ability Score Increases usually happen at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th (if not elsewhere as well.) Subclass features also have to be distributed evenly(ish) from 1-20.

Old Table Retrospective 

To get us started, let's look at what came before, the older Binder class table:

Level
Proficiency Bonus
 Features
Vestiges Bound
Vestige Level
1st
+2
Soul Binding
1
1
2nd
+2
Minor Spirits, Trusted Vestige
1
1
3rd
+2
Binder’s Fate
1
2
4th
+2
Ability Score Improvement
1
2
5th
+3
Minor Spirits (2)
2
3
6th
+3
Binder’s Fate feature
2
3
7th
+3
2
4
8th
+3
Ability Score Improvement
2
4
9th
+4
Adamant Mind
2
5
10th
+4
Minor Spirits (3)
3
5
11th
+4
3
6
12th
+4
Ability Score Improvement
3
6
13th
+5
Binder’s Fate feature
3
7
14th
+5
Minor Spirits (4)
4
7
15th
+5
4
8
16th
+5
Ability Score Improvement
4
8
17th
+6
Binder’s Fate feature
4
9
18th
+6
Minor Spirits (5)
5
9
19th
+6
Ability Score Improvement
5
9
20th
+6
Everlasting Pact
5
9

There's not a ton of weirdness happening in here, but there's a bit.

First, let's look at those dead levels: they appear to be tied to new vestige levels, but they're not the ones we'd typically associate with powerful spells. It's fine to leave a feature slot open when you're giving out a big spell level, since that's a feature in its own right, but 4th level spells and 8th level spells seem a little lackluster.

Also, the levels at which the number of bound vestiges increase are fairly strange, in spite of the fact that getting to bind more vestiges is one of the most powerful/exciting features to get in the class. 5th level makes sense, but after that, it increases at 10th, 14th, and 18th. Strange, indeed.

Lastly, the Trusted Vestige feature is to be axed in the new version; it wasn't that great to begin with.

Level by Level

With all that in mind, let's start building our new class table! First thing's first, clear the slate, throw in the Ability Score Improvements, and make note of when new vestiges come online.

Level
Proficiency Bonus
 Features
Vestige Level
1st
+2
Soul Binding
1
2nd
+2
1
3rd
+2
[New vestige level]
2
4th
+2
Ability Score Improvement
2
5th
+3
[Powerful new vestige level]
3
6th
+3
3
7th
+3
[New vestige level]
4
8th
+3
Ability Score Improvement
4
9th
+4
[New vestige level]
5
10th
+4
5
11th
+4
[Powerful new vestige level]
6
12th
+4
Ability Score Improvement
6
13th
+5
[New vestige level]
7
14th
+5
7
15th
+5
[New vestige level]
8
16th
+5
Ability Score Improvement
8
17th
+6
[Powerful new vestige level]
9
18th
+6
9
19th
+6
Ability Score Improvement
9
20th
+6
Capstone
9

As you can see, this already fills out most of the table. This is largely why classes like the Cleric and Wizard have a lot of dead levels. (In fact, you can see now where the Vestiges Bound levels previously came from: they're the empty spots on our table.) We've still got some empty spaces for subclass and base class features, but first, we should sort out where the Vestiges Bound increases:

Vestiges Bound: The Debate

 To be perfectly honest, we're wringing our hands on how to approach this. Five vestiges seemed like a very good number before, but the levels were all over the place. I'll pitch some options, and after some discussion, we can come to a decision on what to do.

The big questions here are:

     When should you get to bind your second vestige at once? Your third?

     How many vestiges should you be able to bind at once by 20th level?

At Big Power Increases
The most obvious way to handle this is to increase the number of vestiges bound at the same level other classes get their main power increases: 5th, 11th, and 17th. However, if you're following along, that means that we'll have one less bound vestige in the class by 20th level, and a slower progression overall. If you wanted to bind three vestiges at once, you're looking at 11th level and later. This is a clean, efficient way of handling things, but I think that it delays the class's standout feature: getting to mix and match vestiges.

Early Second Vestige
If you felt like the answer to getting your second vestige was to get it as early as possible, we could do that at 3rd level and begin the subclasses at 2nd. This is early and will result in some very powerful binders before 5th level, but it gets into the meat of the class earlier than before.

Every Four Levels
A sort of context-blind approach is to throw out another vestige bound every four levels: at 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th levels. This means that you're getting the big increases out of sync with other classes' power increases (though the strength of your vestiges will still improve at the same rate.) As much as I think this approach is deeply pleasing to my table-making mindset, the fact that you're getting that important increase at 9th, rather than 11th, (when everyone else is seeing their DPR increase) is going to make the class feel very awkward in a party.

Other Solutions?
It's possible that there's a very good solution here that I'm missing. There's probably several very good ones. Please weigh in with a comment if you've ideas, suggestions, or thoughts. When we've got a solution to the Vestiges Bound debate, we'll knock out the rest of the class table.

28 comments:

  1. So here is my thought, you get your second vestige at 3rd, and then every 4 levels after that, thus you get your second vestige with your archetype, and then filling in the weird empty levels you get your vestige features and we end up at 5 vestiges at level 19, it does end up with a pretty big power jump at level 11, but that makes sense, and this way, you could possibly tie a bit of binding to new vestiges to further study into your archetype or something like that, they also fall just before you get an ability score improvement, so it could be that you get the new vestige causing your body and mind to adjust and improve, thus the ability score improvement

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    1. I think by the nature of the class it is going to feel a bit awkward because the vestige system is unique from spell casting, and so having it be close to the other classes, but slightly different I think works nicely. And then this way you could fill in the other levels with base class and archetype features.

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    2. It also makes sense to enter your archetype at 2nd level as the class feels a bit like a wizard/druid in that it takes study to learn how to be a binder, so you wouldn't immediately be able to specialize but you would do so fairly early on as you found where your talents fell.

      As for the power level of being able to bind to multiple vestiges at level 3, I think that it is important to remember and factor in how big of a power jump getting into your archetype is for the classes that enter it at level 3, and for spell casters they get their second level of spell slots, allowing more flexibility, so I think giving the second vestige to bind to gives a mix of the power and flexibility that level 3 gives to the other classes

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    3. It will require adjustment of the 1st level vestiges, possibly not having them actually grow stronger until 5th level (like cantrips) or something, but I think 3rd level for the second vestige is the best option since every other class has entered the meat of what they can do at 3rd level, so why shouldn't the binder

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    4. The other thing that could be done is lowering the damage die for K'Sir, since it is meant to be a weaker sneak attack, I realize it already ends at half the dice that a rogue has, but the issue comes in with regards to putting the second vestige at 3rd level since you would match a 3rd level rogue in terms of sneak attack, though this might be okay since they get expertise and the other rogue stuff at this level, but it might be good to drop the bonus damage to 1d4.

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    5. Also for the 3rd level binding of a second vestige makes sense, as the 2nd level vestiges are more of utility or a focusing of your abilities, thus giving a minor and more focused boost

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  2. I'm a fan of the "At Big Power Increases" model, but would suggest folding an extra vestige into the trusted vestige feature by not having the trusted vestige count towards the number of bound vestiges limit. This would allow for the thematic notion of a trusted vestige to endure in the absence of poor and good pacts. However, adding an extra vestige in this manner would make it too powerful for the 2nd level, but would fit nicely as a the 3rd level feature as you suggested under "Early Second Vestige." This seems to be balanced in the manner that, even if does offer more power to binders before 5th level, it does so in a way that the player focuses around and the DM can account for.

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    1. I really like this idea but it would mean a huge amount of power at 5th level because you will be able to have 3 vestiges at 5th level and it essentially would give you the ability to have a much higher total vestige level than what you would normally have. The only way I can think to combat that would be to somehow nerf that vestige until a later level(maybe make it so you cannot use its major ability until a later level if its bound as your trusted vestige or have it only be able to be active for a certain period of time until a later level) and make it so that it either counts only half(rounded up) or have a maximum level based on your binder level like 1/4 rounded up. I think that it is would be cool if they could figure it out, but again I’m concerned that the only way to make it not super overpowered is to make the feature really complicated. Another thing that might work would be to have some sort of trusted vestige in an archetype, that would make it so you could have 5 if you choose one path but if you choose another it would be 4.

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    2. I like that solution, it works quite nicely, and then you could give it along side your archetype, as the idea of specializing in your area of study with a vestige that you have grown to trust as you have grown with them or something like that

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    3. I'm tending to agree with Liam's assessment about Early Second Vestige; it's likely to be overpowered, too complicated, or rendered unnecessary through rules that nerf it.

      There is an archetype in the works that gives you a bonus vestige, but it's a specific vestige that grows with you. So, that's going to happen, but it won't be tied to Trusted Vestige (which is almost certainly going to be axed.)

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    4. Just out of curiosity is the vestige subclass going to be a set progression or something that the player will have a hand in customizing as they level?

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    5. The vestige subclass is going to be fixed in progression. The idea is that you bind a jealous vestige that you can't unbind, but grows stronger the longer it remains attached.

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    6. Trusted Vestige was a really interesting concept and gets lots of play on my Binder, both in roleplay and in mechanics.

      I'm using the subclass that gets bonuses from their Trusted Vestige being bound, so there's mechanical effect. My Trusted Vestige is being used by the DM as sort of an NPC that occasionally can take over my body when need arises(this has a lot to with how we roleplayed the original pact negotiation when I contacted my first Vestige, which was fun and interesting.

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    7. I was concerned when I saw "Lastly, the Trusted Vestige feature is to be axed in the new version; it wasn't that great to begin with." but seeing that something related will be worked into a subclass sounds interesting.

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  3. I will push for the 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th levels as the "Get another bound vestige levels", and i'll push it for one reason only: Those are the same levels where full casters will get their 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th level spells, so the power increase isn't as much of a disparity between classes as you might think.

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    1. This is true, but it feels weird not getting into as much of the versatility, the focus of the class until 5th level, when a lot of other classes start to enter into what makes them unique by level 3.

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    2. There's something to be said for both of these.

      5/9/13/17 is going to feel stunted more because of the sudden ability to become a better /melee/ fighter, rather than a spellcaster. You won't be overtaking the wizards and sorcerers as much as you'll be overtaking barbarians and fighters for a short time.

      Getting a vestige out early definitely improves the versatility, but it /really/ doesn't look balanced right now, and I doubt it'll look better later.

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    3. What if it was modified progress of 3/9/13/17? Sure they'll get extra power earlier than others, but then again, one could say that about spellcasters too. There a lot of 2nd level spells that are super useful. Sure they're not much of a damaging thing and more like utilities for the most part, but they're still significant in my opinion.

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  4. Vestige levels seem to take care of the power jumps on the right levels, and too many/too good features on early levels tend to screw up balance, especially for multiclassing.

    5/9/13/17 puts them with a new vestige level and prof bonus, which also isn't ideal.

    What about 6/10/14/18? Planned for subclass features?

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    1. I guess here's the big dilemma: the number of vestiges is a larger power increase than the level of vestiges.

      If you get a big power boost at 9th level, you'll suddenly feel more powerful than your fellow party members until 11th, when your allies catch up (and perhaps surpass you.) Typical base classes don't have this problem, since their big power increases all happen at the same time. There's no easy way around this awkwardness, which is the only reason 5/9/13/17 isn't ideal. (I get that this /seems/ like a small complaint, but it's really a problem at the table).

      I don't have a plan for subclass features (they go wherever there's space), but starting the progression at 6th is definitely too late.

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    2. That's a real problem... Going up to 4 vestiges at 20 level (as per fighter attack) seems like not enough, but they need to come at those specific levels... Maybe 3/7/11/15/19 is the way to go, but I honestly don't know.

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  5. Perhaps a gauge to help figure out when new vestiges appear is also by the number of abilities. Having access to 3 vestiges doesn't matter a whole lot compared to spellcasters if the casters only have a few spell slots whereas the binder has 12 abilities. And vice versa. I haven't actually counted for any comparison. Just musing.

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    1. Easy math, as it happens, since we're making sure that the vestiges have a much more rigorous framework this time around. Generally, the active abilities are at-level spells.

      Early 2nd vestige means we have 3 vestiges at 5th level; probably a 3rd level vestige and 2 1st level vestiges. That's 3-5 spells and 9 passive abilities.

      I _really_ don't know either way. Judging by the count, it's not outrageous, but if those abilities are pretty good or have interesting synergies, it could be really overpowered.

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  6. Maybe the solution to getting some of the flexibility in before level 5 is to have a quick rebind N times per long rest (probably just 1 time) at 3rd? Then going 5/11/17 for additional vestiges and maybe have a subclass that gets another vestige bound that isn't fixed at some point after level 5 as a sort of generalist-y/pure binder flavor, compared to the binding+x flavor of a bunch of the subclasses last time around.

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  7. My suggestion (reposting from the other comment): 3/9/13/17. One could argue that getting two vestiges at level 3 is too much, but what nobody says is that warlocks get their second slot at 2nd level. And I'd say that is also an important power bump, allowing the warlocks to get two spells instead of one between rests.

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  8. I can't say I've done much but skim over the comments and the post, so I wouldn't know if this was mentioned, but would a temporary binding solve this? Perhaps, at 2nd or 3rd level a Binder could temporarily summon a vestige that doesn't counts towards the number of vestiges known, maybe for a minute or a number of rounds equal to proficiency/binder level?

    I was thinking the progression would go 3(temp)/7/11/15/18

    Maybe in the last five levels you could introduce an ability that allows you not to count one vestige (your trusted one, and you could make it low level if it's too powerful) against the number of vestiges allowed, maybe as a 18th lvl feature instead of an additional vestige?

    All in all, I'd say the Binder could possibly bind 5 vestiges at max level and an optional temporary one.

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    1. One of the subclasses in the original could do this, and even temporarily pass a vestige into another character

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