This first offering by Forest Guardian Press is 20 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Full disclosure: I was asked to critique the first draft of this class and have received no compensation for it, nor have I asked for any. I have had no hand in developing this final iteration of the class and consider my verdict in no way compromised.
That out of the way, let’s take a look! The Direlock is a new base-class that gets 3/4 BAB-progression, d8, 4+Int mod skills per level, proficiency with light armor, bucklers (but not other shields), all simple weapons and one melee weapon of choice, which is designated dire weapon, but more on that later. Said weapon may be exotic since the write-up per se does not prevent it – something to take note of. The direlock gets spellcasting at 4th level and up to 4th level spells they have to prepare ahead of time. They cast via Int and incur arcane spell failure when wearing medium/heavy armor, proper shields etc. They also get good fort- and will-saves. At higher levels, they may cast spells while wearing medium and heavy armors respectively.
So essentially we’re looking at a gish-class? Stifle the yawns, ladies and gentlemen, this actually does some unique things. But let’s break down those class abilities – first of which would be the dire pool, which is 1/2 lavel 8min 1) + cha-mod points per day. Direlocks may expend said points as a swift action for +1 t damage with the dire weapon for cha-mod rounds, scaling up by +1 for every 4 levels of the class to a maximum of +5 at 17th level. At 3rd level, the point may also be spent to get +2 to saves versus spells, spell-like abilities and hexes cast within the dire zone (more on that later) for cha-mod rounds. At 7th level, 2 points may be expended to penalize all saves of foes within the dire zone by -2 for cha-mod rounds. I assume the ability is an instantaneous effect and does not apply to foes that enter the zone after its initial activation, but I’m not 100% sure. Finally, at 1oth level, direlocks may expend 3 points to grant their dire weapon the spell-stealing ability for one minute.
Now I’ve already mentioned the signature dire weapon, but what is so special about it? Well, first of all, it can’t be broken as long as the direlock has at least one point in his/her dire pool and repairs itself as long as the dire pool can refresh. It is also required to access the dire pool. Dire weapons net a constant +2 competence bonus to CMD versus sunder and disarm, which improves further by +2 for every 4 levels, making the weapon hard to get rid of, but not impossible -as it ought to be, seeing how the direlock’s abilities hinge on it. More importantly is one rather interesting signature ability that sets the direlock apart from any other gish-class: They can counterspell – without magic. Essentially, they follow the same rules as standard counterspelling, but instead of using an appropriate spell, they expend as an immediate action 1 point from their dire pool per spell level to be countered – and poof, the magic is sliced to smithereens. Of course, the spell needs to originate within the direlock’s dire zone and after successfully counterspelling, all inimica (more on them later) are suspended until the direlock’s next turn.
Now I’ve already mentioned the Dire Zone – starting at first level, direlocks radiate a zone of 10 foot that scales up to 30 at 20th level. As long as s/he still has at least 1 point in the pool, the zone nets the direlock +1 to saves versus fear-effects and penalizes foes by the same amount – said bonuses scale up to a maximum of +/-5 respectively – more important, even creatures immune to fear lose this immunity while in the zone – a nod to Dreamscarred Press’ Dread-class.
Now the weapon’s been covered, let’s talk about the so-called “Fell Regalia” -adding these to armor and clothes, the direlock gets 1/ level to intimidate checks, but suffers the same as penalty to Diplomacy and Handle Animal. Now what were those inimica-things? Inimica can be activated by spending a swift action and affect those within the dire zone. When applicable, inimica have a save of 10+1/2 level+cha-mod. Direlocks start with cha-mod+1 inimica and learn an additional one at 2nd level and every two levels after that. Inimica typically last until the end of the combat and can, as an additional limit, only be used 1/day, +1/day at 4th level and every 3 levels after that. Only one inimica can be in effect at any given time, though they may exchanged without additional point-expenditure of dire pool points and an incapacitated direlock only means that the effects in question are halted, not eliminated. Now let’s check out some examples of the 15 inimica provided, shall we?
On the more basic side of the scale, there’s an inimica that provides 1 hp bleed damage to foes hit by the direlock’s dire weapon for as long as they remain in the dire zone – but here is a minor wording issue that needs to be addressed – the ability does not specify whether the effect ends when reentering the dire zone after leaving it – a question, by the way, not addressed in any of the ongoing effects herein, though I do assume the effect resumes. More peculiar and absolutely awesome concept-wise would be the Dire Magic inimica – whenever an enemy caster casts an area of effect spell or spell-like ability within the dire zone at the direlock and his/her allies, its effects are also extended to the casting foe’s allies. But what about the caster? Why not the caster? Apart from that, this inimica looks VERY powerful since its effect extends to otherwise rather hard to deal with spell-like abilities, but the limited range of the dire zone and the fact that channel energy for example, can’t be repelled by it keep me from complaining. If this extended to supernatural abilities, we’d be looking at one killer combo here. (Hint for sadistic DMs seeking to truly torment their players…)
Increasing their own DCs and concentration DCs of foes is also within the possibilities of inimica. On the fluff/anti-gas side, we get a solution for one hole in the rules – you may conjure forth a strong wind within the zone, essentially dispersing gases and hampering ranged weapons. Ignoring some DR based on level, penalizing attacks and will-saves, skill-checks, damage inflicted, AC and CMD, decrease threat-ranges (and even multipliers for weapons that only threaten on a 20) – you get the drill. All of these scale slowly up with the level. There also are two different abilities that deal damage when foes consciously enter or leave the dire zone respectively(i.e. no skipping to-and-fro to make foes pass the barrier again and again) – interesting for tactical combat. beyond that, there also is an inimica called woundrede – which halves the effect of magical healing and penalizes applications of the heal-skill. Now where this otherwise awesome ability stumbles a bit with regards to in-game logic is when it comes to channeling negative energy (it specifically addresses that it affects channel energy – ANY way of healing really) and undead. Let’s say an undead spellcaster channels energy to deal damage – the inimica does not kick in. If he does the same to heal his/her undead allies, the inimica kicks in. That does not make sense to me. Perhaps a limitation by energy type would be more prudent here.
Direlocks also get Dire Senses, i.e. deflect arrow (a bit weird, since they are not very dex-centric) and can later choose to get a bonus to their flatfooted AC equal to cha-mod versus a foe in her/his zone, whereas invisible opponents have to contend with wis-mod bonus to the AC – again, a slightly weird choice to split the attribute-dependant AC-bonuses. At 10th levels, these capabilities are further enhanced.
Very interesting is the fearsome slough ability – via the expenditure of a point from the dire pool, the direlock may essentially transfer a limited set (and only one per round) of detrimental conditions that required a save and are not permanent as a swift action to an adjacent enemy by succeeding a reroll of the save that prompted the condition at +10. It should be noted that this +10 is untyped and thus does stack with ALL bonuses the direlock may have. I seriously would have preferred a typed bonus here. The new target must make a save at the same DC as the one the direlock incurred when s/he suffered the condition – which is really cool, HOWEVER: What about “progressing” conditions? Let’s say a direlock is shaken and then becomes frightened. Now the direlock sloughs off frightened to a foe – is the direlock now shaken again or is the condition completely gone?
The next class feature is also rather unique, the Dire Mantle – which essentially allows the direlock to absorb spells targeted directly at them of up to 3rd level (or cha-mod, if lower) if they succeed a Spellcraft check versus 15 + spell level as an immediate action – important since action economy is crucial for many of the direlock’s abilities. Each spell-level of the absorbed spell is essentially converted into a charge, of which no more than cha-mod can be held at any time. Additionally, spell-power thus absorbed may not exceed the dire mantle’s remaining capacity to store energy. These so gained charges can be expended via 8 different ways, three of which have a limit of once-per-combat and require the expenditure of 3 spell levels at once.
I could go on a tangent why 1/combat powers make no sense to me, but here we have a prime example why this does not work as intended: 1/combat, the direlock may expend a charge from the dire mantle to gain a point in the dire pool. Direlocks may only do this once per combat, but can, via allies, have their spell-levels recharged via spells (of course, sans having to identify them!). The caveat here is – if allied casters pump spell levels into the direlock so s/he can regain dire pool points, why can they do so only once per combat and why only in combat? If the restriction does not apply to peaceful situations, it makes e.g. a very cheap level 1, CL 1 wand essentially a dire pool battery. If it does apply, it makes no sense in-game and provokes “false” combat for dire pool farming purposes. Beyond that, it’s also a bit weird to me that no spell-like abilities can thus be absorbed – though that’s for the better, I guess, since after all there is a plentitude of creatures with at-will SLs. Still, I think the recharge should go or get a daily limit. On the plus-side, metamagic and psionic powers are given guidelines for the ability.
Starting at 3rd level and every three levels after that, the direlock gains a so-called incunabula, essentially the talents of the class. They may also exchange these for direlock-class-level requiring feats and, if applicable, the DC is 10 +1/2 level + cha-mod. A total of 17 incunabula to choose from are provided herein. Incunabula allow the direlock to e.g. chose one spell from a specific witch’s patron (the choice is fixed) to add to their spell-list, learn a hex that is only usable within the direzone. These abilities are surprisingly versatile – for example, there is one that allows the direlock to reduce the amount of dire pool points his abilities cost by 1 for 1 round whenever s/he scores a critical hit or a foe fumbles while within his/her dire zone.
Beyond passive abilities like this one, we also get active ones – e.g. the option to make the dire weapon count as one size larger for one round. Unfortunately, the wording runs afoul of a minor issue here: RAI, the increased size probably should only apply to damage, but RAW, the ability specifies the weapon is “one size category larger for all of her attacks until the end of her next turn.” – which potentially means penalties to attack due to the increased size. A nitpick, yes, but one minor issue nevertheless. Dire spell is also another candidate where I’m honestly not 100% sure how it works – 1/day, as a swift action, the direlock may cast an offensive spell that affects creatures within the dire zone. Said spell affects an additional target. Only spells gained from this class can thus be enhanced.
Now the thing is – can said target be beyond the dire zone or not? If e.g. a fireball damages a foe within the dire zone, could the additional target be beyond the dire zone? If yes, does the maximum range of the spell still apply? I wager the additional target would have to be within the dire zone, but I’m not sure.
Another problematic wording can be found with the “Dread Assault” incunabula – by expending 1 point from the dire pool, a direlock may make an extra attack as part of a full-round action with said attack using the class level as BAB and if multiple attacks hit in one round, the threat range is expanded- per se awesome. The thing is, as written, it would potentially be possible to expend multiple points from the dire pool for multiple attacks at this increased BAB – since neither the general rules for incunabula, nor the ability itself specifically prohibit using multiple dire pool points this way, the ability can be munchkin’d rather easily – though clearly (I hope) that was not the intention of the ability.
But not every incunabula is problematic – adding e.g. the progressing fear-themed conditions to foes works well, as do better chances of confirming crits, temporarily expanding the dire zone by 5 feet, adding spells from wizard, magus or alchemist spell-lists, turning undead or an increase in potency of ravening strike (allowing for the destruction of spells rather than the absorption) – the majority works as intended.
Ravening Strike? Yes, at 9th level, 1/round when criting with the dire weapon, a direlock may forego the additional critical hit damage in favor of leeching 1d4 available spell-levels from the target into her dire mantle – or dissipating it, which is weird since I figured the incunabula void strike would be required to do so. As a balancing factor, lower level spells are consumed further, the target gets a save and the direlock takes minor damage when using ravening strike. Also, the may not draw spells whose level exceeds their cha-mod. Apart from the incongruity with the incunabula a cool ability.
But I’ve skipped past perhaps one of the most ambitious abilities of the Direlock – Eldritch Tentacles. Essentially, direlocks of 5th level and above may establish as a move action that provokes an AoO one invisible tendril. Connecting said tendril takes a standard action (or a full round action for a set of tendrils), a successful touch attack and can only be done with a creature within the dire zone, plus one tendril for every 3 levels beyond 5th. These tendrils allow for the transference of conditions via fearsome slough. Beyond that, exiting the dire zone while such a tendril is attached causes pain to the target, dealing cha-mod x 1d4 damage. More importantly, direlocks may also take negative conditions from their allies and heal while being under the conditions, with the amount of hp regained per round depending on the severity of the condition. The ability can be used 1/day and is upgraded further at 17th level, making the attaching of tendrils faster.
At 8th level, the dire mantle is further upgraded, netting +2 to saves versus spells and effects analyzed, but not absorbed. Furthermore, somewhat akin to a rod of absorption, spell levels absorbed may be used to power the direlock’s spellcasting without expending the prepared slot. The wording here is a bit hard to understand at first – as an added caveat, a direlock needs to have spell-energy equal to the spell-level they wish to absorb for purposes of casting their own spell stored. That means to absorb a 3rd level spell and use it to power a third level spell of their own casting, they’d require 3 spell levels already stored in their mantle. At least that’s how I understood it. A slightly more concise wording would help this ability. Finally, direlocks may now also store a portion of a spell, exceeding their total capacity, e.g. absorbing a 3rd level spell when only having room for 1 more spell levels – this comes at a cost, though: Exceeding spell levels are lost and deal damage – though that damage still is significantly lower than what the respective spell would deal.
At 10th level, the inimica-list is expanded by 4 major inimicas: And yes, one allows for the absorption of area-spells cast in the dire zone – at a large dire pool cost, but still: Awesome! Another one penalizes enemy initiative, deal enhancement bonus damage to all foes within the dire zone when hitting foes as well as an expansion of the fearsome slough, which allows sloughed off conditions to move on to another target after a foe successfully saved against it. If all save, the condition lingers in limbo for one round and the save-game resumes the next round until either its duration expires or a foe fails his/her/its save.
At 13th level, direlocks may pay dire pool points to use cha-mod instead of wis-mod for a save (again, as an immediate action -action economy), at 14th level, spells of up to 5th level can be absorbed and as a capstone, both spell levels potentially absorbed via ravening strike and tendrils are upgraded and additionally, direlocks may now absorb spells of up to 7th level.
We also get favored class options for drow, dwarves, elves, gnomes, goblins, half-elves, half-orcs, halflings, humans and tieflings. The Half-elf bonus makes not much sense – add 1/2 foot to dire zone is absolutely useless until level ten since 5 foot increments are the basic minimum – so essentially, it’s 1/10 5-foot range for the dire zone. Also: Since the dire zone is essential for ALL significant abilities of the direlock, the expansion is much stronger than all other favored class options.
Next up are new archetypes, first of which would be the Banelock, who gets diminished spellcasing, but proficiency with an exotic weapon and shield (I thought a dire weapon could be an exotic weapon? The base-class has no restriction there…). Instead of dire pool/weapon, they get a bane pool, which may be used to add enhancement bonuses weapon qualities to their weapon. They may get up to 2 additional dire weapons and get the armor proficiencies 2 levels earlier. While it can be gleaned from the context easily, a special shout out that a bane pool works as a dire pool for all direlock abilities would have been nice – though since it’s so obvious and all but spelled out in one explanation, I won’t hold that against the pdf.
Number 2 of the archetypes would be the Dreadmasque: In place of a wizard’s book and spells, they get an eldritch warmask – hard to remove from their face and netting them bonuses versus mind-affecting effects and serving as the focus for their dire zone. Said warmasque stores spells akin to a witch, instead of storing them within the familiar, utilizing the mask. As swift actions, Dreadmasques may enter masques, essentially arcane katas that make spellcasting for the masque more difficult. This ability is usable 1/day +1/day at 4th level and every three levels after that and starts the game with one known masque and gets another one at 2nd level, 4th and every 3 after that. As a minor pet-peeve of mine, they last until the end of combat, but thankfully, they also have a non-combat duration – 1 minute/daily use. I’d be interested in how these two durations interact, though – let’s say one masque is activated and almost has run its course – 6 seconds prior to ending, combat breaks out – is the duration expanded to the duration of the newly initiated combat? And why not simply give the masques a fixed, solid time-duration? The combat-caveat seems like an unnecessary, complicating factor.
A total of 11 masques await for the taking and general confer a variety of scaling bonuses to different checks and also net access to specific witch hexes while enacting the respective masque. Analogue to regular inimica, we also get 4 greater masques that become available at 10th level. Medium armor proficiency is delayed to 10th level and dreadmasques pay for their masques (which are slightly stronger than inimicas) by losing among other thing, spellcasting in heavy armor. At 19th level, 4 masques based on major hexes also beckon.
The third and final archetype would be the Fear Eater, who may eat fear of foes to heal him/herself and/or remove fear-themed conditions (and later use absorbed fear to negate his/her own non-fear-based negative conditions). They may also assign targets within the dire zone and hit them with fear-effects and cure allies of fear-based conditions. They also get an exclusive inimica that enhances their prowess when attacking fearful foes and a new incunabula for extended durations of the fear-effects they impart.
Next up are 17 new feats, which cover the obligatory extra inimica, incunabula, pool points, tendrils, mantle capacity etc. and also provide a feat for more resilient eldritch tentacles. Speaking of tentacles – one feat allows you to share inimicas (and dire zone effects in the improved version) with a tentacled ally and another lets you transfer conditions from allies to foes via them. Nice! The most interesting ones would be those that allow for modification of the dire zone – by excluding a foe from it, you may extend the zone to include one foe within 5 foot of it and do this with 2 foes via a second feat. You may also exclude squares adjacent to you from the dire zone to expand its reach by 5-foot and increase this to 10 foot via another feat. Unfortunately, all of these feats fail to specify what kind of action the morphing of dire zones via these feats is, if any, and in a class so dependent on action economy, that’s kind of a big deal.
The pdf also provides a new spell, the exclusive second-level Accumulating Error, which is a minor debuff that gets worse if the foe gets hit/fails to hit you and has it duration set depending on the amount of times s/he/it fails – per se cool, though personally, I don’t like the wording “fails to defend” – why not “is hit/fails a save”? Would be more precise.
As a rather cool help, we get one-page of inimica cut-outs and a direlock management-sheet – awesome! Seriously, I wished all complex classes had one – two thumbs up for that!
Editing and formatting are very good, though here and there small glitches like e.g. a feat-“Benefit:” that is not bold have crept in. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous, atmospheric and very cool two-column b/w-standard with an easy to read font and is a beauty to behold – which can’t be said about the original pieces of full color artwork. While I understand that at this price-point, there’s no such thing as a big art budget, the artworks are very cartoony and actually imho detract from the grim, gritty, dark feeling of the direlock – especially faces look rather frightening – but perhaps that’s the goal? However, the armors of the characters look presentable – so that one works for me. Still, don’t expect to be blown away art-wise. The pdf comes in two versions, with the latter being more printer-friendly – but, and this is especially annoying for such a complex class, both have no bookmarks. This is a comfort-detriment and imho any pdf longer than 6 pages should have them by now.
This has got to be one of the longest class-reviews I’ve ever done (and I don’t plan on doing any of these length in the future) mainly because of two factors: The complexity of the class and because I wanted to give you a fair impression of the class. I expected yet another gish and what I got was a caster’s worst nightmare/controller-type class that succeeds very well at the complex things it tries to do – the basic mechanics (with the notable exception of the mantle) work well – but, once again, the devil’s in the details:
At first glance, this class is absolutely and complete awesomeness if you’re looking for a “creepy” antihero-style warrior or a representation of a character who uses supernatural abilities to foil spellcasters, but closer analysis unfortunately unearths quite a few issues, most of which aren’t by any means game-breakers, but still should be fixed. The Direlock is, concept-wise, perhaps one of my favorite 3pp-classes out there right now and almost has the execution to match the awesome concepts. With a little more polish, this could even jump into my Top Ten-list for 2013 – its ideas are that good. Since it shows some first-time product-style errors, though, I can’t go as high as I’d like to. In fact, were it not for the majority of the class features working in spite of rather complex mechanics, I’d probably rate this down further. As written, as much as it pains me to, I can’t rate this higher than 3 stars. – here’s to hoping for a revision that this awesome class definitely deserves. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Morgan Boehringer and Forest Guardian Press!