New Paths – The Trickster (Revised edition)
This revised installment of the New Paths-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
The trickster class presented herein receives d8 HD, a now reduced 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons plus rapier, longsword, sap, short sword, shortbow, whip light armor and shields (excluding tower shields) and may freely cast spells while only wearing light armor and/or using a shield. The class receives 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Ref- and Will-saves and gains spellcasting.
Spellcasting of the trickster is slightly more tricky (I’ll punch myself later for that one) than you’d expect: The trickster’s spellcasting is governed by Intelligence and thus is prepared according to convention. However, spells prepared are not expended upon being cast – instead, the spell slot of the appropriate level is expended. Metamagic is handled as for sorcerors and similar spontaneous casting classes. High Intelligence influences the number of spells a trickster can cast, but not the amount of spell-slots he has – this is pretty important for balance, so bear that in mind. So, in summary, we have an actually working blend of prepared and spontaneous casting here for a surprisingly unique take on the old vancian system. And yes, concise rules for cantrips gained (often overlooked) and spellbooks (ditto!) are part of the deal here. This section is rather elegant – kudos here! Tricksters begin play with 4 cantrips known and 2 1st level spells and increase that up to 6 for each spell level, barring 5th and 6th, which cap at 5. 5 is also the maximum spells per day limit. Akin to the alchemist and similar classes, spellcasting caps at spell level 6.
The trickster also receives access to sneak attack and begins play with +1d6, increasing this by +1d6 at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Similarly, at first level, the trickster gains trapfinding. So far, so rogue-y, right?
Well, second level becomes a bit more unique, as the trickster gains a forte on which to focus, of which 4 are provided. Structure-wise, the fortes provide immediate benefits and unlock new abilities at 5th and 9th level. The first would be Acrobat, which not only provides skill-bonuses to movement-related skills and eliminates the need for running starts to get the associated bonus. Additional movement while not carrying heavy load or the like and no armor check penalty for Dex-based skills can also be found here. At 5th level, the trickster gains a scaling bonus to AC and CMD and may also act as though under freedom of movement for trickster level round per day, but only for movement purposes. The 9th level ability has been similarly redesigned – provided the trickster has at least 10 ft., he can dimension door as part of the move action expended, but, in a unique twist, the total distance he can thus travel is limited and capped with a daily max.
The second forte is arcane accomplice, which nets a familiar, though the familiar receives Disable Device and Sleight of Hand as class skills and can deal sneak attack as long as it’s within 30 ft. of the trickster – and yes, this means you can basically double-team on your own, greatly increasing the validity of sneak attack, though, for balance’s sake, a familiar’s sneak attack uses d4s, which proved mathematically feasible in my tests. 5th level goes one step further and nets the familiar all teamwork feats of the trickster as well as AC +2, while 9th level provides basically spring attack for the familiar, but only with regards to delivering harmless touch attacks – and yes, this is more versatile than you’d think.
The third forte is Beguile and provides +1 to DCs and +1 to rolls to overcome SR, scaling by +1 at 5th and 9th level – but only when targeting creatures that would be denied their Dexterity-modifier or that are helpless. At 5th level, when successfully feinting, the target would be denied his Dex-mod to AC for the next melee attack or spell targeting by the trickster, but only when performed on or before his next turn. 9th level decreases the required action to feint to a move action, a swift action if the trickster has Improved Feint.
The fourth forte is Spell Pilfer, which is easily the most unique of the fortes: As an immediate action, the trickster can make a Spellcraft check (DC 15 + spell level) to identify the spell and, if successful, the trickster may attempt to pilfer the spell. The caster receives a Will-save versus 10 + 1/2 trickster class level + Int-mod to negate the attempt. If the caster fails, he loses access to the spell known or prepared spell, while the trickster temporarily (1/2 class levels, minimum 1) adds the spell to his list of spells known. While the spell is pilfered, the original caster may not cast it, but the trickster may, provided he has an available spell slot. Only one spell (again, VERY important for balance) can be pilfered at a given time – pilfering a second spell, the previous spell immediately reverts to the owner. This ability can be used 3 + Intelligence mod times per day. It should be noted that tricksters can only pilfer spells they can cast, another VERY important limitation. Now you may have noted that Will-saves are pretty easy for most casters – thus, at 5th level, the trickster’s Wisdom modifier is also added to the DC to resist the pilfer attempt. I am usually fiercely opposed to dual attribute-mods to anything, but considering that Wis is NOT a trickster’s crucial stat in any way, in practice, this is not problematic. 9th level allows the trickster to pilfer spells above his casting capacity, but thankfully with the caveat that the trickster can’t cast such spells – so no abuse possible. This is a very impressive ability in my book, since it makes spell theft work sans holes in the wording, sans abuse. Love it!
The new, fifth forte would be shadow, which nets a +2 insight bonus on Stealth checks in dim light or less and it also nets low-light vision and darkvision 30 ft. (Or +30 ft., if the trickster already has darkvision.) They also get +2 to saves (untyped) versus spells with the shadow subschool or darkness descriptor. 5th level nets Hide in Plain Sight while within 10 ft. of a shadow is pretty powerful; usually, one assumes 6th or 7th level as the soonest at which this one should be available. Shadow and darkness spells are cast at CL +1. At 9th level, the trickster SR equal to 12 + class level versus these spells. When I heard about this new forte, I was pretty excited. I admit to being less excited by now – the shadow forte isn’t that interesting. It isn’t bad by any means and the free bonus content is nice to have…but I’m not that blown away by it.
Starting at 3rd level the trickster adds +1 competence bonus to Bluff, Disguise, Escape Artist, Sleight of Hand or Stealth, increasing the bonus by +1 every third level, though the new bonuses gained may be freely distributed among aforementioned spells. 3rd level also nets evasion and 6th, 12th and 18th level provides bonus feats from a limited list. 8th level provides uncanny dodge, 11th improved uncanny dodge.
At the level, as a standard action, the trickster can cast a spell with a range of touch and deliver it as part of a melee attack, with the restriction of only working in conjunction with spells that have a casting time of 1 standard action or less. If the trickster hits, he also deals sneak attack damage in conjunction with the touch spell. Important: Misses mean the spell is lost, not held! This, combined with 3/4 BAB, is an important balancing mechanism…At least until high levels, for at 17th level, it is no longer lost – as a minor nitpick, while it is clear from the wording, it would have been nice to see the class explicitly specify that the trickster can hold only one sneakspell charge to avoid stacking them up.
Spells thus delivered may also not be enhanced by metamagic and, have a crit mod of x2. 9th level provides ranged legerdemain, though the ability is thankfully MORE precise than that of the arcane trickster PrC, specifying how far you can propel stolen objects and increasing the required skill ranks to 5. At 14th level, the trickster receives Filch Spell, which allows the trickster to hijack spells requiring direction (flaming spheres etc.) as a move action 3+Inttelligence modifier times per day. 15th level provides Surprise spells – but unlike the imprecise original take on the ability, this one clarifies from the get-go how it works with magic missiles or AoE-spells. As a capstone, the trickster treats all sneak attack damage 1s and 2s as 3s and automatically confirms all crits when using sneak attack. Additionally, the trickster may add metamagic to sneakspells sans increasing the casting time.
It should be noted that the trickster, still exceedingly powerful, now has a suggestion to decrease the power of the class: The suggestion is to eliminate necromancy and evocation from the spells they can cast. While this may be a sound idea and a quick and dirty elimination of the blasting capabilities of the trickster, it only marginally addresses the issue of power – an alternate, more conservative spell-progression would have been a more prudent solution in my book and maintained the universality of character concepts one can realize – instead of restricting the options, reducing the resources available, especially considering the strong framework of the class, would have made sense to me.
The pdf now also contains the dual forte trickster archetype: Instead of the bonus feats at 6th, 12th and 18th level, these guys can select a second forte at -4 class level at 6th level. And yes, this is pretty much broken. Individual effects of one forte’s three benefits usually exceed that of a comparative feat gained – for three feats, you basically get the effects of three class abilities that all exceed the individual potency of a comparable feat. Instead of improved uncanny dodge and filch spell, 11th level and 14th level net this archetype further enhancements of their respective primary forte…and they are…basically the best-of regarding class abilities you can ask for. Acrobat? + sneak damage when you move at least 10 ft. At 20th level, the archetype gets both fortes at full potency. I…consider this archetype broken. What it exchanges for the significant flexibility and power gain does not add up. Not getting near my game.
Editing and formatting are top-notch and precise, I noticed but one minor fringe case; other than that – all around precise and well done in both formal and rules-language departments. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports multiple gorgeous pieces of original art. The pdf comes with bookmarks in spite of its brevity – nice.
Marc Radle’s trickster is interesting – it is a testament to how much we love the concept of a rogue-y character that the by now pretty broken (as in: too weak) base class continues to see truly excellent takes on the trope. Regarding customization options, both the talented rogue and in particularly, Legendary Games’ absolutely brilliant Legendary Rogues-book provided options for the “mundane” rogue that retain their viability in the system. Why “retain”? Well, simple: You see, the rogue has been pretty much a casualty to changing design-paradigms in PFRPG – when the core-rules were releases, the value of a rogue talent was obviously set to about a feat or less, while later classes have increased the value of class-specific options – compare alchemist discoveries and rogue talents if you need proof of that…or look at the ninja’s framework and unique tricks and you’ll notice the paradigm-shift.
The trickster, however, is not a simple rogue redesign – it could be summed up as a magus/rogue-hybrid, but that does not do the class justice: Instead of cobbling together two classes, the trickster is a completely unique class. Let me sum up the unique benefits here: The trickster streamlines problematic arcane trickster class features, has a unique spellcasting-blend that plays different from standard classes while being easy to understand and it provides a balanced, strong means to represent the sneak attack double team as well as, most importantly, creating the AWESOME spell pilfer mechanic.
Where am I going with this history lesson/comparison? Well, the trickster is stronger than the vanilla rogue – no doubt. It frankly SHOULD be – there are three classes that need versatility/power-upgrades: Rogue, monk and (versatility-wise/unique class feature-wise) fighter. The trickster is stronger than the rogue can deliver solid damage – much like a magus, this class is a glass cannon, though one that also is a rather good face/skill-monkey. Personally, I very much welcome the decrease in skills per level, though this in no way decreases the potency of the class.
So…generally, I’m a bit torn on the revision. You see, when Marc sent me the revised file, I *really* dug the changes as a list. The revised Acrobatics forte is unique, magical and has cool mechanics that I really, really like – and I thought this would be what I wouldn’t like. In contrast, I expected to like the shadow forte and was pretty underwhelmed by it. It has no ability that stands out as unique, it’s just a selection of specialist tricks and some shadow-dancery material thrown in. Basically, the previously lamest forte is now pure awesome…and we get a new one, that is now, in comparison to all others, pretty lame….but then again, I may just have the trope done in too many, often more captivating ways.
Still, I had the highest hopes for the alternate balancing…and am not sold on it, as mentioned above. The alternate balancing doesn’t do much, apart from restricting the damage output and if you get creative, you can still rock out damage via the other spell schools. Perhaps not as much…but it feels like a band-aid for a bullet wound to me. The trickster, even with that limitation, does not lose much in its potency apart from direct damage-dealing capacity via spells. Still, the care would usually warrant an upgrade in rating…
And then, there would be the archetype. And it’s even stronger than the base trickster. Significantly so. I consider it broken. The exchange-value of fortes for feats and the other abilities are all off. Not going to get anywhere near my game.
How to rate this, then? I’m somewhat loathe to say it, but, as a person, I ended up liking this, as a whole, less than the previous iteration. While the 6+Int skill-issue and the slightly weaker Acrobatics-forte were not perfect, the pdf had no big issues. The dual forte archetype, to me, is a big issue – it’s significantly stronger than anything the original pdf contained and an archetype I’d disallow in even my high-powered games.
You know, I feel like a total prick…this is a free addition, more content…but ultimately, in spite of the now superior acrobatics forte, the archetype really drags this down for me. Usually, I’d actually rate this down for that one. However, due to the fact that this is a free revision, I will maintain a rating of 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for this revision, with an explicit note to be very careful with the dual forte archetype. It may suit your game, it won’t come anyway close to my table unless I’m playtesting something with Path of War-powerlevel.