November 1, 2018

Vestige Levels | 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.

Perhaps the most important thing we need to get right is the number of vestiges; this single number makes or breaks the entire class. Too many and the class becomes daunting to read/play/DM. Too few and players don't feel like they have enough options.

In this article, we'll be discussing what the right number of vestiges is, as well as what each level of vestiges should be all about.

Simple Arithmetic

Last time we visited the binder, we eliminated some of the vestiges from the original class, added a few of our own based on D&D lore, and ultimately ended up with a similar number to the original, 30+ vestiges. There's no question that this was too many vestiges. The class was full of interesting options, but too many people skipped it on principle, and I don't blame them. I also don't like allowing packs of options at my table before I fully understand all of the options available.

Arriving at the right number of vestiges will be a difficult balancing act.

First, we need to consider how many options players will accept when they gain a new level. One is obviously too few. Two vestiges might be better, but presenting a binary option can seem frustrating if neither option happens to appeal. Three strikes me as a good number.

However, early levels are going to need more vestiges to get the class off the ground, especially since you begin the class with the ability to only bind to one vestige at a time. So, let's increase the first level of vestiges to 4-5 vestiges.

Later levels, by contrast, probably won't need as many options. By 15th level, players will have an abundance of other vestiges to mix and match. And, in keeping with the design trend of higher level spellcasters, a fewer number of high-level options, which are all more powerful, should convey a sense of arcane might without rocking the boat. So, 7th, 8th, and 9th level vestiges should have 2 each.

That leaves us at 25 vestiges. Sadly, this only cuts 5 off the total, but perhaps this is the right number?

Vestige Level Themes

When you take a close look at class abilities and spell levels in D&D, lots of trends emerge. For example, 1st level simply doesn't have a lot of damage potential, whereas 3rd level spells and 5th level class abilities all contain a significant damage spike. Vestiges should be designed to reflect similar trends in their levels, so as to give a more consistent flow to the class as a player levels up.

Note: vestige levels arrive at the same level as their corresponding spell levels.

1st Level

First level vestiges are critical to getting the class right. Vestige features need to be useful enough for a 1st level binder to feel like they're getting a good deal only being able to bind one vestige at a time, but not so powerful that taking a one level dip into binder is unreasonably attractive for other classes. This is a great place for vestiges that are all about social interaction or other non-combat related functions.

The Simple Passive ability here can be weapon proficiencies and cantrips, but can't be extraordinarily strong. The Passive needs to be useful all the time; this probably isn't a point to give strictly defensive features. The Active needs to feel worth it at lower levels, but not useless at higher levels. It's going to be a tough thing to balance.

Moreover, at least one first-level feature needs to be dedicated to being useful for higher level characters, in order to make this level of vestiges attractive for a longer period of time. For example, a passive that becomes more powerful with the number of vestiges a character binds at one time, or an ability that makes high-level abilities (such as teleportation) more useful are great additions.

2nd Level

This vestige level arrives at 3rd level, when all the classes have been given archetype features and many have been given slightly more powerful abilities, as they dig further into their important class features. We're beyond the level of a small dip at this point, so we can look to giving out some more substantial features.

Specifically, at 2nd level, I want to start giving out vestiges which define a particular type of combat. We're looking at fighting styles, as well as other options which give a relative +1 or +2 damage to potential damage output, but which must be used in a certain way. So for example, an unarmed fighting vestige might fit well at this level, since it can improve damage potential a small amount, but forces you to emulate a specific type of fighting.

If we include a spellcasting vestige at this level, it should be focused on utility and exploration, since very few 2nd level spells are substantially focused on damage. This /might/ be the place to include a simple healing vestige, but there's a lot of competition for these three vestige slots.

3rd Level

Boom! This level is the first big power spike. At the same level, fighters get Extra Attack, wizards get fireball, and binders should get some big options as well. This is probably a level to emphasize damage output: blasty magic and Extra Attack. And if there was a level to give out very defensive options, such as heavy armor or high HP, this would be a great level to get it out there.

4th Level

Like 2nd level, 4th level spells are focused more on interaction, exploration, and crowd control than they are strictly in dealing more damage, so vestiges at this level should do the same. I'd go so far as to say that vestiges at this level should apply no substantial increases to damage per round. However, since we're looking at a higher level than 2nd, we can tackle more interesting and powerful mechanics, such as debuffing and thorns.

5th Level

Spells at 5th level are all over the place, but they definitely represent a power bump. Impressive damage spells, like cone of cold and flame strike live at this level, but so do critical interaction spells like dominate person, geas, and telekinesis, as well as exploration spells, like teleportation circle and passwall. That said, we have a bit of a free-for-all on our hands in terms of spellcasting, whereas martial classes can't expect a big damage buff (theirs drops at class level 11th, spell level 6th).

This could be a great level to tackle more ambitious vestiges, such as a necromancy vestige with animate dead, a vestige which offers flight, etc. Alternatively, we can wait until 6th for necromancy, since create undead comes online at that level.

6th Level

This level is huge for martial characters and spellcasters. We're looking at another level focused largely on damage increases. Importantly, we shouldn't give out a third weapon attack to binders (that's very much the fighter's thing), but we should look at options which improve damage output by the same amount as a third attack would. Rangers accomplished this by giving more attacks against more targets, paladins managed it by adding a bonus 1d8 to each hit, and we'll need at least one solution here.

We should also look adding another evocation vestige at this level to keep up the class's damage curve for binders that want to emulate a full spellcaster.

7th and 8th Level

By 7th level, we're officially into high level vestiges and high level spells. Vestiges at this level should be more exhaustible than in earlier levels, so it might be wise to trade out the Passive for a second Active occasionally from here on out.

It seems hard to nail down a separate mechanical theme for 7th level and 8th. Both include spells that deal impressive damage and have plenty of reality-warping effects that can shift the tide of combat completely. Perhaps 7th focuses more on damage, whereas 8th focuses more on those titanic effects which aren't quite big enough to earn 9th level, but this is hard to generalize to vestiges. These vestiges are going to need strong themes, and we'll have a lot of room to play with them, but it also doesn't seem like the time to mess with emulating other classes or providing new ways of fighting; that seems too small-time for a vestige at this level.

It's clear I need to think about these more, and it might be that we need a whole article down the line to sort them out.

9th Level

Obviously 9th level is huge. I have a few ideas for the vestiges to go here, but they're going to be mostly big, single-use effects. Both of these vestiges are a huge investment, but by their limited nature, are not mandatory picks for high-level binders.

- - -

This week isn't a huge community design week, but I'm happy to hear your thoughts on which vestiges should go where. Next week, I'll have a trial list of vestiges by level for us to debate about.

13 comments:

  1. I think that 25 is a good number of vestiges, as a player I always want more options rather than less thus I would like more. But as you said for dms and to make the class more manageable I think that cutting it down a bit was a good choice. I wouldn’t be concerned by only bringing it down by 5 though, because based on your new layout the vestiges are far easier to understand so it almost like you brought the number down by 10 for dms but only 5 for players. That’s my opinion at least. I can’t wait to see how you separate the vestiges by level. I might be getting a bit ahead of things so feel free not to answer if your not at this planning stage yet but are you planning on adding minor spirits? And if you are, I don’t know how feasible this is but on your first binder I always thought it would be kinda cool to have a archetype that focused on minor spirits, like maybe making them more powerful, giving you access to more powerful ones, or even like a design your own spirit type thing, don’t know if that’s feasible or even if it’s binder-ish but it’s just something I always would be cool. P.S. sorry for the page long comment I tend to be a bit long winded or so I’ve been told.

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    1. I don't plan to add too many minor spirits, but I plan to make a pass simplifying them somewhat. And we've absolutely been thinking about an archetype focusing on minor spirits, so there's a good chance it'll be in the new version of the class.

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    2. Don’t feel too locked into the minor spirit vs major spirit. Vestiges that we’re really powerful could have faded tremendously over time, and vestiges that barely impacted the world could have since been growing in power and influence. Also, since the binder is, well, binding vestiges to his soul, does that mean he can manipulate the souls of others? Is there something there worth exploring?

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  2. The one thing that I've not seen you mention is just how many of these become obsolete as you level. You say that the primary ability of the Binder is flexibility, but is it? Why would I, the player, take a strictly worse (lower level) vestige for marginally greater flexibility?

    The one you've posted, Tilo, is cool, but his powers are limited by being a 2nd level vestige. Later, when I can bind a vestige that gives me Time Stop or whatever, would I bind one that lets me enlarge once per day? Maybe total vestige levels has to be less than character level, sure, but then I'm just deciding what is the best of my highest level vestiges and then filling in with low level vestiges with whatever is left.

    You've mentioned multiple evocation vestiges. Why would I take the lower damage, single target vestige when I could take the multi-target one? It won't do any more damage, because it is lower level. It will be worse, even if it fills in some archetypal power niche.

    All this flexibility with the vestiges seems more an illusion than anything else. Every binder of a given level will pick basically the same of their 2-3 highest level bindings and then if they have an extra level or two maybe something like Tilo.

    I guess what I'm saying is that unless the vestiges scale, I don't see how they add flexibility because the Binder knows which ones will define his character and everything else is an afterthought.

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    1. from my experience with the current Binder the lower level vestiges offer a lot of utility functions and the higher level ones focus on one or two very specific functions.

      my binder and your binder could end up being very different based on which vestiges we pick and what subclass we go with.

      My binder is very melee combat oriented, so i took Aoskar for the teleportation and cantrips, and Paimon for combat mobility and a little extra damage.

      TL;DR it's an incredibly flexible class

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    2. You'd take lower level ones because you can take 2-3-4+ of them for the same 'price' as one higher-level one.
      As a sorcerer, would you bother knowing any 2nd level spells when you're 15th level? Probably one or two that remain relevant.

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    3. I agree with you wholeheartedly that vestiges need to be relevant even at higher levels, but I believe the solution here is not, necessarily, to scale everything.

      Tilo is a good example. Since I've implemented heavy weapons with Tilo, it'll likely going to be the only way to get heavy weapons in the vestiges. Even as you level, that benefit won't be diminished; in fact, it's going to synergize with higher-level vestiges which increase the number of times you can attack. There's nothing scalable in the entire vestige; it just retains its value.

      As I mentioned in the article, spellcasting vestiges are going to have very few at-will abilities at higher levels, with many more at lower levels, creating a impetus to take lower vestiges to keep you going once you've run out of higher level spells. This isn't at all dissimilar to how other spellcasters work in this edition.

      And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how the current math of total-vestige-level = binder-level is self-balancing. If you pick only your top level of vestiges, you can only get 1-2 vestiges total. Oftentimes, it'll be better and more interesting if you pair one higher-level vestige with a host of lower-level vestiges to create a specific build; that's what the binder is about, after all.

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  3. Hey, as an idea for the healer vestige, could they have a feature similar to the paladins lay on hands, but instead of 5 hitpoints in the pool per level, its 3 or 2, so like some others, it gets better as you level, but it isn't an outrageous amount of healing

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  4. What if some of your higher level Vestiges (3rd+) are just earlier vestiges but with more power? So, instead of creating an entirely new vestige, you just recycle one and you are able to tap into more of its power. This way all you need to focus on is adding or buffing it's earlier abilities.

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    1. Just to be clear, I'm not saying to do this with all of the vestiges, but if maybe one vestige from each level from 1st to 4th had a higher level version then that's 4 less vestiges you would not need to make from scratch.

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    2. We've discussed the concept of "At Higher Levels" vestiges, and I'm not convinced that the pros outweigh the cons. The pros are obvious: fewer vestiges which are easier to learn. The cons are that those vestiges with the Higher Levels clause are going to be more complicated for players and it's going to complicate the currently very simple binding rules.

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    3. I wouldn’t have a higher level clause or scaling system. Couldn’t you keep the rules as is but list them twice? Once for each of the levels you can bind them at. Ex

      Flimflam the great (1st level vestige)
      Gain some cool abilities

      Flimflam the great (4th level vestige)
      Provide same abilities with some extra bump

      So you’d have the option of binding the vestige as either a 1st or a 4th level vestige.

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    4. This would work less like a “at higher levels” spell and more like the Polymorph and True polymorpg spells. They are two different spells but at their core they are the same. One is just far more powerful and has less restrictions.

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