The Animist: Nature Incarnate
So, took me long enough, right? This is the first of the classes commissioned via Interjection Games’ patreon and clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving su with 17 pages chock-full with CRUNCH.
One more note – the book sports a handy difficulty to build/play-index – the class scores just 2 of 5, so, as far as Interjection games-classes are concerned, that ought to be pretty simple – so let’s take a look at the mechanics: The animist gets d10, full BAB-progression, good will-saves, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, greatclub, longow, shortbow and whip as well as with light armor and shields. Wearing medium or heavy armor reduced the maximum prominence (more on that later) by 1, unless the armor sports the wield special ability.
The key ability of the class would be animism, the ability to become one with various aspects of nature on a temporary basis – the animist uses temporary tattoos made of natural ingredients in a 1-hour ceremony after resting. This ceremony is only required if the animist wants to change aspects, however. The abilities thus gained are called “aspects.” Aspects are grouped in two categories: Minor and major aspects. Animists begin play knowing 3 major and 3 minor aspects. Each level grants the animist one aspect known for which he meets all prerequisites.
If the grouping was not enough of a clue: Aspects occupy slots. An animist begins play with 2 major and 1 minor slots. At 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the animist gets an additional major slot, while at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, he gains a minor slot. If you’re taking heed, you’ll not that this caps out the class at 7 major slots and 6 minor ones at 19th level. All aspect slots must be filled upon taking the ceremony – you can’t keep a slot open like e.g. with spells. t should be noted that animists can suppress the benefits of their aspects as a full-round action, so yes, the class actually can still attend social functions without all people running away screaming from the strange thing. While suppressing an aspect, the animist gains no benefits from it, though. Ceasing suppression is a full-round action that provokes AoOs, making this work pretty seamlessly along the lines established by Pact Magic’s physical signs. Nice.
Beyond the basics of aspects, there is prominence – and this makes the class feel a bit akashic mystery-ish/incarnum-ish. For every four class levels the animist possesses, the character increases the prominence value by 1. What does this? Well, an animist may have a major aspect take up more than one major aspect slot, up to the maximum determined by the prominence-level. At 4th level, an animist has just reached prominence 2 and has 3 major slots available. He could e.g. use two major slots for one major aspect and gain the prominence 2 bonus of said aspect and bind a second major aspect for that aspect’s prominence 1 bonus…or he could bind 3 major aspects and get the prominence 1 bonuses of all three. If that still sounds confusing, don’t fret – the pdf does a great job explaining the mechanic.
Aspects, if applicable, have a saving throw DC of 10 + 1/2 class level + Wis-mod. Untyped abilities of aspects modify others, natural attacks or passive ones tend to be extraordinary, explicitly-stated SPs are spell-like abilities (d’uh) and all other abilities are supernatural. Simple, right? At 5th level, the animist may, as a full-round action that provokes AoOs, 1/day change a minor aspect via the Embody Anew ability, but only if e.g. daily use abilities have not been tapped – nice! This can be done an additional time per day every 4 levels thereafter. As a capstone, the animist gains an additional major slot that acts as a wildcard major slot with a maximum prominence of 1 – the major aspect of this slot can be changed as a full-round action that provokes AoOs. Limited use major aspect prominence 1 abilities are not eligible for this slot.
The class sports FCOs for the core-races, aasimar, drow, tiefling, hobgoblin, kobold, orc and puddling, providing a nice diversity of options. A total of 4 feats complement the class: 1 allows other classes to gain one minor aspect, one grants +2 aspects to the animist, one that allows you to reduce the prominence each ability by -1 (more on that later) and one for +1/day minor aspect use.
The pdf also sports 2 archetypes, the first of which would be the tattooist. This guy gets a pigment pool of 1 at 1st level, +1 every four levels thereafter. When preparing aspects for the day, these guys can expend pigment points to an aspect – this locks the aspect for one whole week – the animist cannot change said aspect. Pigment points only refresh once this time has elapsed. The pigments provide benefits like +1 use of an aspect, increased save DCs, increased damage, +3 initiative (but requiring the activation of the aspect) and 9th level allows for e.g. the swift action activation of an ability- but at the cost of all daily uses and only if none of them have been expended so far, increased prominence and similar, appropriate benefits – all at the cost of the flexibility of the Embody Anew ability: Slight power-increase for less flexibility is the trade-off here.
The second archetype would be the verdant herald, whose prominence caps at 2. Instead of embody anew, the herald gets an equality pool at 5th level, containing 2 points, +2 for every 4 verdant herald levels beyond 5th. The verdant herald may use these points to activate minor aspect abilities sans depleting their daily allotment, but they may not spend more than 2 such points per day on a single aspect. Very interesting – for double the cost, they can actually activate aspect abilities thus, even if they were not prepared. The pool refreshes after meditation and replaces embody anew. At20th level, the herald gets temporary equality points equal to 7-highest prominence among her major aspects, further increasing this flexibility in ability use as the capstone. Oh, and it should be noted that the verdant herald gets three unique feats to utilize the equality pool – minor healing when drawing on aspects not prepared, for example. I wished that one had some sort of scaling, though. On the cool side, you can increase your equality pool…Or, at 15th level, further reduce your maximum prominence to 1…but learn two new major aspects and gain temporary equality points equal to your equality pool size, effectively doubling this component. This feat would have been an archetype in a lesser book and while it looks odd and wonky, it’s math, once you dissect it and the DPS-options between characters with and without it, is as concise as I’d expect from Bradley Crouch – essentially, the verdant herald’s focus on minor aspects means you can nova better, but don’t have that many staying power/non-resource-based combat options.
All right, so that would be the basics, but in order to properly judge the class, we obviously have to take a very close look at the aspects themselves, so let’s start with the major aspects. 21 such aspects are provided herein, but each of them has not one, not 2, but 7+ abilities! No, I am not kidding. Basically, we have a default ability labeled “each,” the prominence 1 ability and then escalating tricks at higher prominences. So let’s take a look at what can be found here:
Autumn is all about stock-piling food, at least if the super-market-going populace or the squirrels around here are any indicator – hence, this aspect allows you to grow berries from your head. You (or allies) may pluck them for minor healing – which, while weak, is nice imagery. At higher prominence, the aspect becomes more interesting – you add buff-effects to the characters that consume your berries and turn them into acid-damage dealing, entangling (no save) crowd-control micro-bombs…and at highest prominence, you can actually regrow them when defeating foes…and yes, kitten-proof.
Perhaps you want to activate magic items based on dumb luck? If so, the more prominence, the less chance you have that your chimpanzee aspect’s ability fails…oh, and you have a decent chance of not using those precious charges of your spell-trigger/spell-completion items and even increase CL or grant you save-bonuses versus such items. At the highest prominence, you may choose wild-card druid spells to use instead of the spell-trigger/completion item’s effect. And yes, this still takes spell levels into account – no easy cheese to be found here. Perhaps you want to go all swamp-thing and shamble around in creepers that can autonomously perform AoOs? Go for the creeper aspect. Want some moderate inflict wounds SPs? Decay-aspect.
Want to go full-blown DC-villain, fly around and shoot gobs of phosphorescent, burning material akin to the villain Firefly? Just take the aspect of this name. And yes, the latter allows you to even ignore fire resistance at prominence 5. Want reflexive pustules that entangle foes attacking you in melee, a bite with grab (or even a tongue?) – Frog aspect, baby. Bite at reach with specialization-feats? Giraffe. Secondary tentacles, electricity and fortification? Jellyfish. Energy resistance + bonus damage, extending resistance to nearby allies? Obsidian sentinel. I’m not a big fan of the scorpion’s option to negate melee attacks, but at least the math is sound and play-style wise, this works pretty well and the option to hamper offensive appendages via the claws is pretty damn cool… as is the fire-damage-dealing capstone poison. Want to be fortified versus some flanking/have movement superiority? Then the spider aspect, with spider climb and net globules as well as immunity to flanking unless dazzled, blinded, etc. would be what you’re looking for. Spring increases maximum hit points and provides bonuses when at full strength and, with evasion and the like, is the low-armored, agile aspect. Want fast healing (that thankfully caps once it has taken care of enough damage)? Well, then, obviously, the troll is what you’re looking for. The unicorn is about limited healing (particularly awesome if no one wants to play the healer…) and Winter’s icy aura is slapstick gold…particularly nasty in combination with trip-builds. At high prominence, the aura not only can deal cold damage, it also penalizes Dex…by -4…OUCH. And if that does not look evil, then you haven’t see these guys double-team foes into a trip-loop.
As you can see, the major aspects are mostly devoted to general ability set-up and fighting styles – basically, they are the passive ability-suites that supplement fighting styles with active and unique options. The minor aspects, on the other hand (30 provided, btw.) are more about the flashy, limited tricks: Anteaters may e.g. attack foes or stationary objects with their sticky tongue. If they hit with a “melee touch” (which should be “ranged touch attack”), they move to a square adjacent to the target (provided the way is not blocked), while benefiting from +4 to AC versus AoOs. Apart from the minor wording hiccup, a great ability with cool visuals…though I wished it specified whether the tongue can lift the weight of the animist like a grappling hook – I assume it can, mainly because the image of an animist in my playtest jumping from a tower’s window, only to use his tongue to get to an adjacent roof three stories above ground (sans going splat) was too awesome. Cheetah-like sprints, minor reflexive rage, temporary DR by curling up armadillo-style, temporary bat-blindsight (hello, medusa!), create water at will (scaling up to 3/day touch of the sea and 1/day water breathing), con damage-healing via mosquito-drains…or what about decomposing bodies of vanquished non-undead/construct foes to power healing? Or a high-level phoenix-burst that deals AoE-damage and heals the animist?
If all of these do not seem too impressive to you: Remember, this is a full BAB-class that can stand pretty well on its own in melee! The minor aspects essentially add the cool highlights to the gameplay of the animist. EDIT: So, I’ve been asked to highlight a particular component of this class that I seem to have glossed over or at least not emphasized enough: the way in which the copious natural attacks of this class interact. You see, I mentioned the handy table that lists damage-types, attack types (primary/secondary) etc. for a reason. In case the partial shapechanger-style note below wasn’t enough clue for you: What makes the animist interesting beyond the basic chassis and the effects of the respective aspects, is that you can go full-blown bonkers regarding your natural attacks: Let’s take an 11th level animist as an example. The animist has 5 major slots, 4 minor ones and a maximum prominence of 3. For a bite attack, we can take either Frog, Viper or Giraffe as a major aspect, both granting the bite from the get-go, with the difference that Frog increases your HP and is more versatile at higher prominences, while giraffe provides a bite with reach and better upgrades -in case you don’t have them, prominence 2, which grants Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization for bite, may be a smart move. The viper aspect provides a poisonous bite – at 2 prominence, the animist gets a retaliatory anti-AoO-bite whenever he’s attacked by someone in melee, but only if he has not yet bitten that round. Scorpion provides 2 pincers from the get-go and the 2-prominence parry may be worth the investment – particularly in combination with viper, this allows for a pretty interesting defensive harrier that can start an array of natural attacks on the fly. Jellyfish nets you a tentacle and, if you have the slot to spare, at prominence 2 light fortification…and a second tentacle. While these do not add ability-modifiers not special weapon abilities, but they can still be nasty. Alternatively, prominence 2 nets you claws with the lion major aspect as well as a defensive mane, so that would also be an option to take, though, alas, you have to choose between claws or pincers when attacking, so no combo there. Mind you, that’s before minor aspects. At 11th level, we can add “The Cornered” as a minor aspect – when criting with a chosen natural weapon, all weapons wielded, both natural and manufactured, become wounding weapons for one round – you see what I’m going for here? Yeah, pretty neat. Another build my PCs really liked was based on charging and flexibility – basically, the minor aspect The Ravening allows you to increase the damage of your natural attacks by one size as a swift action and fatigues you on the following round for higher damage dice; minor aspect cheetah allows you to increase movement by +30 ft. as a swift action when running or charging and the boar allows for a second attack at the end of a charge, though that one does not stack with e.g. pounce. While not combo-ing with other minor aspects, these can make for a very versatile charger, particularly when combined with the right major aspects. Essentially, the class offers quite a few customization options and different variations you can use to make the type of natural attack-combo/combat option you want.
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect – I noticed some very minor nitpick-points, though none that truly impeded the pdf’s functionality. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ classic, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports several pieces of thematically-fitting stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for maximum convenience.
Bradley Crouch’s designs are among the most popular at my table – my players like tinkering with classes; we like flexible options and unique tricks. That being said, his previous full-BAB-classes like the brewmaster have been a bit heavy on the pre-planning. The animist is several things: For one, it’s a pretty simple class to grasp. The base mechanics are elegant and smooth. The interesting thing is, though, that you have both the planning component and the flexibility directly in battle – major aspects provide plenty of pre-planning rewards and cool fighting style options that come 100% into their own when properly combined with feats: Then, the animist becomes fearsome indeed. Oh, and then there would be the “non-boring martial”-factor: The minor aspects provide ample unique, cool “see what I did there”-tricks that render playing this front-line fighter/controller rewarding.
Another potential problem did lie in the odd looks and visuals of the class, but thankfully, animists can still attend social gatherings…though getting back all aspects may take a while…which works pretty well, actually: Think of it as superman going into the phone booth – only that you mutate into a kind of grotesque man/animal/plant-thingy with many lethal natural attacks. Hey, and we *all* wanted to do that…right? Right?? Kidding aside, the animist, and that’s the crucial component, plays well – yes, you can make a pretty nasty clawing, biting monstrosity here, but the class’s true appeal lies in its flexibility. While there are some very minor hiccups here and there, over all, this beast provided a fun, unique playing experience and is an excellent addition to the roster of classes provided by master Crouch – essentially, this is a full BAB-spellcaster-like experience and fun as hell. At this point: Shout out to Sasha Hall, who commissioned this class – thanks for having this one made!
My final verdict will clock in, in spite of minor imperfections, at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5…and I’ll add my seal of approval – get this cool class, it’s the coolest take on the nature avatar/partial shapechanger-class I’ve seen so far!
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