The Abstract Thief
This pdf clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
The abstract thief is a new base class that receives d8, 6+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good will-saves, proficiency with simple weapons, hand crossbow, rapier, shortbow and short sword, light armor and also receive prepared spellcasting via Int of up to 6th level. They also receive sneak attack progression at 2nd level, going up to a maximum of +7d6. Starting at 5th level, sneak attack range is increased to 60 ft. and can be combined with abstractions, but more on that later.
Beyond that, they also receive an abstraction pool of 1/2 class level (min 1) +int-mod; these can be used as swift actions to grant rather massive +4 bonuses to thieving-related skill-checks (but NOT acrobatics), somewhat akin to Drop Dead Studios’ guile pool. At 4th level, things get nasty, though – here, the abstract thief may use combat maneuvers with int instead of str AT RANGE. Only 30 ft., granted, but still, using abstractions this way is very powerful and one of my red flags since it avoids combat maneuver’s retaliation/feat-investment. That being said, the limited range does salvage this ability for me. Finally, at 9th level, the abstract thief can use abstractions to cast Mage’s Private Sanctum as a Spell-like ability.
Starting at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the abstract thief also receives a so-called abstraction, essentially a type of talent that has a duration of class level minutes and costs 1 abstraction point. Using an abstraction requires close proximity (again, the 30 feet), a standard action and a scaling will-save on the side of the victim of the theft. Notably, the theft of abilities cannot eliminate PrCs, feat prereqs and the like – which is a nice caveat. A total of 18 such abstractions are provided and their ideas are rather cool – take “Steal Divination”: Highjack a target as a recipient of a divination or caster of a divination? Cool! However, the wording here is rough around the edges – “If successful, the next time a beneficial divination spell is cast on the target or by the target, the abstract thief benefits instead as though she had cast the spell.” – okay, so what constitutes a beneficent divination spell? I *get* what the ability *means* to do, but the exact definition of “beneficent” may be subject to interpretation – why no go with divination in general as a school (well defined) or at least go via the subject-line? Does the target have to be specifically targeted or does running into a scrying sensor count? This looks good on paper, but in execution can lead to quite some issues.
Steal Force allows you to break the magic weapon rules – with it, the abstract thief may leech enhancement bonus, qualities etc. from a weapon to a weapon s/he wields, stacking all but direct enhancement bonus. So beyond the artifact/intelligent item-question – this allows the stacking of magical weapon qualities to make nova-god-blades. Why? Because there’s no limit on how many of these can be applied to a given weapon – as written, you could burn your daily allotment of abstract points to boost ONE weapon with all magical qualities you get your hands on. Temporarily, yes, but still. A *MUCH* tighter wording is required for this ability to work as intended, perhaps with a nerf and an increased duration? Codifying how the ability works beyond the enhancement bonus is the significant challenge waiting here.
Compared to these, +2/-2 luck bonus and rerolls feel conservative, but they do work. What’s actually rather cool is the option to temporarily steal int-based skills and add them to their own playing field. The thing is, they’re added as RANKS, not as typed (NON-SCALING) BONUS, as RANKS. This allows the abstract thief to break the level cap for skills and means any organization with one abstract thief and enough experts could succeed in just about ANY ridiculous, int-skill-based check. It’s a small thing, but it breaks the class feature. Save or die at 9th level is another issue I found herein – not only is it gained at too low a level, Pathfinder usually only provides massive damage output, not downright death for many former insta-kill effects. Why not adhere to this formula, especially since the abstract thief does incur damage upon using this abstraction? (Another point – damage incurred by the abstract thief equals 2 x HD – easy way to determine enemy HD – why not go 1d3 or 1d4 per HD to leave at least SOME room for variance?) Duplicating Trap the Soul at higher levels, conversely, feels better balanced than its small sister abilities.
Stealing the memory of a short time span of a target creature, experiencing all they know would be my favorite in this array – mainly because it opens some significant roleplaying potential. HOWEVER, once again, the abstraction fails to specify something crucial – that this is damn well supposed to be a mind-influencing effect. Sans that, there’s no way of properly guarding versus it and that would render quite a plethora of precautions etc (and in-game logic) rather obsolete.
Now Steal Proficiency is downright broken – why? Because it also takes away everything based on that proficiency. Feats and special abilities based on it? *poof* This instantly eliminates *A LOT* of builds – anything on shield bashing, weapon focus etc. -GONE. Every ability that can just instantly make a character useless for minutes, is Su (no countering, no AoO) and has no precautionary means of preventing it…well, is OP in my book. Plus: This will make gameplay crash down to a grinding halt whenever it is used. Why? Do *YOU* know which feats require proficiency in armor/weapon as prereq? Hint: Weapon Focus does, Point Blank Shot does not. Now if you have more follow-up feats, you have to know the exact prereqs of them by hard, potentially ages after you’ve selected them. Good design in a meta-space, in actual play, extremely annoying – researching which feats suddenly no longer work and which do proved to be exceedingly frustrating.
Stealing unusual senses works fine, and conceptually, so does ripping a shadow as a servant from a creature. However, the shadow needs to stay “within 30 feet of the abstract thief, and automatically stretches to hit distant creatures” – so 30 ft. reach? Is it a regular shadow? If so, it becomes obsolete VERY fast. What does that automatically stretching part mean? Which square does it materialize? Also: Shadows have “Create Spawn” – can the shadow create spawns which then persist? Are they permanent? A jumbled mess, alas.
Not all have these issues, though – switching positions DOES mention that it’s a conjuration (teleportation) effect, for example – kudos! The same can be said about stealing spells, which, while a bit rough regarding wording, works. Oh, and one abstraction is narrative gold – this one lasts longer and lets you steal the target’s youth! Yeah, damn cool!
Beyond these talents, hide in plain sight, trapfinding, affecting unintelligent adversaries as if they had a mind, getting past special sensory detection measures like blind-sight etc. Minor metamagic, nondetection – rather nice. Being able to cast an illusion or enchantment spell after sneaking a flat-footed opponent and finally, as a capstone, using two abstractions in one round make for fitting high level abilities.
The class also receives FCOs for the core races minus elf/half-elf, plus drow. Nice ones. The abstract thief gets her own spell-list – and the spell-list per se is interesting – based on utility, the list allows the abstract thief to fill the terrain control/utility aspect of wizards/witches rather well…perhaps a bit too well. But to determine that, I’d need more playtesting time than I can currently allot to the class.
We also receive 5 new feats – extra abstractions, of course, but also one that lets you extend your stealth’s benefits to allies – alas, there is already a feat that does that – it’s called Stealth Synergy and works based on Line of Sight rather than close quarters, making this feat utterly redundant. It also refers to the “Hide in Plain Sight TALENT”, which the abstract thief does not get – she gets that as a class feature. Treating cards as weapons makes for a cool feat, as does faster slight of hands. The best feat here would be one that makes mundane material as if it were lead for magic – this one has so many uses for creative gaming, it’s awesome!
Finally, we receive advice on abstract thieves in the world and 2 fluffy, nice legends.
Editing and formatting on a formal level are good, on a rules-level, the more complex pieces could have used more care. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard that is extremely printer-friendly and bare-bones and which weirdly changes fonts in the middle of the pdf. At the end of each “chapter”, the pages sport quite some blank space – here, a more compressed layout would have helped. The class-table lacks the plusses in front of BAB and saves. Artwork is thematically fitting new mixed with stock art. The pdf has no bookmarks, a comfort detriment.
Author Ray Chapel has taken an interesting turn here – the abstract thief is an interesting take on the rogue, though one that probably should mention that it’s an alternate class of x, thus precluding classing into parent classes. That being said, the spellcasting rogue/trickster has always been one of my favorite tropes and this one tries to fill it. And it almost works. The Abstract Thief has quite a lot going on for it – good sneak attack, skill-boosting somewhat akin to Time Thief et al., good stealth and a neat array of spells. And then there’s the abstractions – the drawing point of the class, its unique toys, are unfortunately where it comes apart.
This is what I’d call a gentlemen’s agreement-class in my game – the player gets to do xyz, but in turn, may not do zyx. Now this is not intended as bashing, many of these abilities you’ll read and know what they are *supposed* to do. Alas, that’s not all there is to game design – the wording of complex abilities, especially ones as powerful as the abstractions are with the extended sneak attack, need to be precise and alas – the majority herein are not. So that’s a big detriment, but not one that’s unfixable.
What I don’t get, apart from the multiclassing oversight, is why the abstract thief tries to do SO MUCH. The abstractions are limited in how many you get and the class forces quite an array of abilities Abstract Thieves may not want upon them – a less linear progression would have made this more interesting. I also do not understand why the rogue talents have been more or less ignored in this build – there is a huge pool of options, why not use it? Well, the answer would be – the abstract thief is less like the rogue and more like a bard in theme, focus etc. That’s also how it fared in playtesting – somewhat akin to an alternate bard with significant sneak attack, ranged combat maneuver options, save-or-die…you get the drift.
I understand that the rogue needs some power upgrade (though weirdly, in my game, Rogue Glory’s rules were more than sufficed for that) for some people and that this was the intention of the class. But in playtesting, especially for as long as the abstractions are not fixed, this does too much – it’s essentially bardic-style spellcasting, sneak attack, pool AND the unique talents and thus just does a bit too much.
Is this an unmitigated mess? No, far from it! But it shows that it’s a freshman offering, with some glaring glitches in many of the original, i.e. NEW content. Can this one work? Yes. Can it be fixed! Heck yes! Can this be glorious? Once again, a resounding “yes” would be the answer. But it does need some balance fine-tuning, mechanical editing of the rules language and much more precision before it can be considered good. Due to it’s at this point significant flaws, I’ll settle on a final verdict of 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for the purpose of this platform and hope we’ll one day see a fully revised, less linear and more balanced version of this cool prototype – for that is, what I consider it to be at this point.