Undead Paragon Classes: Skeleton, Vampire and Zombie
This pdf clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Okay, so we begin with an explanation of paragon classes: Inc ase you are not aware of Rite Publishing’s phenomenal “In the Company of…”-series, here’s the gist of it: It’s a class, exclusive to a race, that lets you improve your innate racial abilities, allowing you to become more potent over several levels. As this pertains undead racial paragon classes, we begin the pdf with the rotting corpse racial template, which serves as the foundation of the material herein:
Rotting corpses get -2 to Str, Dex, Int, Wis and Cha and use Charisma instead of Constitution as governing attribute. Weird, verbiage-wise: “If the base race gained an ability modifier to Constitution, apply that same modifier to Charisma.” Looks like dwarves make for particularly good-looking corpses…Anyhow; the rotting corpse becomes undead, but retains the parent race’s subtype. Okay, do they still qualify as humanoids of their parent race for the purpose of bane etc.? Rotting corpses don’t suffer from the standard 0 hp-destroyed issue of most undead, instead becoming disabled upon being reduced to 0 hp – it takes an exceeding of Charisma score in negative hit points to destroy them. The race gets +2 to Intimidate versus living creatures, but -2 to Diplomacy, Handle Animal and Ride when interacting with the living. They are not immune to ability drain or damage or mind-affecting effects. They otherwise retain full undead immunities.
Okay, so fragility-issue is addressed; the base race has a couple of nerfs that prevent it from going overboard, but the immunity array is still pretty damn potent. A level 6 spell to raise undead (as opposed to the living) has been included – and yes, it’s still costly as all hell, retaining balance there.
Now, let’s take a look at the racial paragon classes, shall we? Skeletons get d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per level (ouch), proficiency with simple and martial weapons and all armors and shields, including tower shields. They gain full BAB-progression and god Ref-saves and start the game with Improved Initiative as a bonus feat. They also begin play with their class level as DR/bludgeoning and cold resistance equal to twice their class level. However, they also take their class level as a penalty to Disguise checks to pass as living. They are treated as possessing the skeletal template for the purpose of feats, abilities, etc. At 3rd level, the skeleton gains two claw attacks (doesn’t specify their damage or whether they’re primary or secondary, requiring you to resort to the defaults) and 5th level yields weapon training, with every 4 levels thereafter yielding another weapon training and bonus increases. 9th level provides the option to instead choose advanced weapon training instead. 7th level provides uncanny dodge and 17th level its improved version. 11th level nets cold immunity. 19th level provides immunity to piercing and slashing damage and as a capstone ability, the class gets +4 to initiative, may always act in surprise rounds and gets +2 to Dex. Creatures hit by claws are frightened on a failed save (nitpick: The formula should refer to “Charisma modifier”, not “Cha modifier” and it should refer to class levels – RAW, it could be read as either class or character levels), an ability held in check by a hex-caveat (24 hours immunity on a successful save).
2nd level and every even level thereafter also nets a talent, which are called skeletal boons for this class. If applicable, their save-DCs are governed by Charisma. Here we can find e.g. Point-Blank Shot as a bonus feat r any feat based on it – the skeleton “must meet all qualifications for the feat.” That doesn’t RAW exist – prerequisites is the correct term. Beyond combat feats, we get bleed-damage causing claw attacks (+1d4 bleed, as soon as 4th level – ouch!) and damage auras, both energy based and reflexive explosions that may be upgraded to cause bleeding damage. You’ll notice something: Internal balance is wonky. Would you like +4 to Bluff against the living or massive resistance that upgrades to immunity versus fire or electricity? Yeah, thought so. This hold particularly true with extra arm. It nets you an extra arm. And while that arm doesn’t allow for additional attacks, it can manipulate objects, hold weapons etc. and it has its own hand and ring slots, but still adheres to the cap…which, as a whole, makes this REALLY weird. All the traditional benefits of more arms, apart from holding more stuff ready, don’t apply, and the whole drawing items interactions become wonky. The way in which these additional arms (you may take this as many times as you like) interact with full attacks etc. are also puzzling.
The second racial paragon class would be the zombie, who gains d12 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Fort-saves and proficiency with all simple weapons, but no armor. Instead, the class gains a natural armor bonus that improves from +1 all the way up to +7. The class nets DR/slashing equal to class levels and begins play with a slam attack. Lack of clarification regarding type and damage output means that you need to resort to default values here. Paragon zombies gain slow and steady and Toughness at 1st level. The zombified ability, which makes them count as being a zombie for prerequisite purposes etc., is missing from the class table.
Starting at 3rd level, the paragon zombies gain clinging attacks:, gaining the grab ability – that is very soon for this potent ability; comparable class options yield it later. 5th level yields a bite attack, which once again requires defaulting to standard values, but more so than before, a lack a specification regarding primary or secondary nature is felt here. 7th level yields the Bloody bonus feat, which yields fast healing 1 (increases later) sans cap and thus opens a whole lot of potential exploits. Not a fan. 9th level provides an iterative slam attack. 17th level provides another iterative slam attack at -10. Starting at 13th level, the class also gain s an iterative bite attack at -5. Undead Regeneration is gained at 11th level, suffering from a similar issue as Bloody, just exacerbated. Starting at 13th level, the zombie gains +1 to Fort-, Ref- and Will-saves, which increase by a further +1 every 2 levels thereafter. The capstone doubles regeneration and no longer has it impeded by positive energy and his regeneration may not be suppressed – he becomes unkillable. He can just be incarcerated etc. – not be destroyed. Cool idea, but not sure about it being so absolute.
Much like the skeleton, 2nd level yields a zombie boon, with an additional boon unlocked every even level thereafter. These include stench and an upgrade for it, a concentration-hampering aura, climb speed or constrict, which should be locked behind an appropriate level-cap. There is also a boon that lets the zombie heal by feasting on corpses. While each corpse can only provide nourishment based on Constitution score rounds, this is weird: Tough, Tiny critters yield a ton of sustenance. And yes, this means you’ll have infinite healing, as long as you don’t run out of rats or kittens to consume. Just bad design, forgetting the abuse-prevention there. Similarly potent: Housing a swarm, which is exuded on a crit – once again, internal balance of options could be tighter.
The third class herein would be the paragon vampire, who gets d6 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression. Good Ref- and Will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light and medium armor and shields, excluding tower shields. The vampire also gains spellcasting and may cast spells in light or medium armor sans incurring spell failure chance. The vampire gains spellcasting of up to 6th level, drawn from the sorcerer/wizard list and is a spontaneous spellcaster who uses Charisma as governing spellcasting attribute. Each round a vampire is exposed to sunlight, he is staggered and takes a whopping 2 damage, with the damage increasing by +2 for every level attained after first. He may spend 1 blood point to become immune to the sun for 1 hour. Okay, does this extend to spells that duplicate daylight? If so, then this directly violates a central tenet of how vampires usually are handled.
Paragon vampires are treated as having the template for feat and prerequisite etc. purposes and they begin play with blood drain. While in a grapple and pinning the target, they drain 1d4 Con, healing 5 hit points or gaining 5 temporary hit points per round they drain blood. Temporary hit points seem to stack with themselves, capping at a maximum of the vampire’s normal hit point maximum. The vampire also gains a blood pool of 4 + class level +Charisma modifier blood points. If these drop to 0, the vampire takes -2 to Str, Dex, Cha, Int and Wis and a further -2 to all Charisma-based skill checks. Blood points are also regained by draining targets: If the target has an Intelligence of 5 or less or is mindless, the vampire gains “1 blood point for every two points of Constitution damaged during blood drain.” So, RAW, that would always be 0. Damage =/= drain in PFRPG-rules-language and the difference is quite important. Anyhow, intelligent targets instead yield 1 blood point per Constitution drained (no, sentence 2 didn’t get it right either). Matching the vampires type yields even more blood. In case you’ve been wondering: Yes, this means the class has infinite healing from level 1 onwards AND infinite blood points, just as long as you don’t run out of cute, futzzy kittens to suck dry. Unnecessarily exploitable.
Blood points may be used, starting 1st level, to power a Su-variant of charm person at CL equal character level (or is that class level? The wording could been cleaner…). 7th level unlocks dominate person for 1d6 blood points. 16th level provides dominate monster for 1d10 blood points. 11th level nets create spawn. The capstone reduces the cost of vampire boons by 1 blood point and also provides a fly speed of 30 ft. with perfect maneuverability and +2 to Charisma. Odd, that the reduction doesn’t apply to the charm/dominate-chain.
Vampire boons, you guessed it, represent the talents of the class and the first is gained at 2nd level, with an additional one unlocked every 2 levels thereafter. Boons require the expenditure of blood points and if the amount rolled exceeds the current blood points, the vampire is reduced to 0 blood and the action is wasted. If applicable, saving throw DCs are calculated via Charisma. Children of the night yields the ability to summon nature’s ally, with every 2 levels after 2nd unlocking the higher level versions of the spell – which also cost more blood points, obviously. Gaining a physical buff while in withdrawal, in comparison, is rather weak. The vampire can also choose to be able to assume gaseous form. Energy drain requires blood point expenditure and is relegated to higher levels. Minor bonuses to social skills, gaining resistances for 24 hours – the defensive options and how they are tied to blood points is interesting, but ultimately, they only mean that a vampire will snack on kittens when waking up – their durations are long and since the resource is ridiculously easy to replenish, any choice becomes pretty much non-required. Suffice to say, while I do like the idea of the variable costs, I pretty much HATE this whole class. There have been significantly smoother takes on the playable vampire.
Now, I have already grazed the topic here and there, but there are 2 pages in the pdf, which are devoted to supplemental undead feats: A couple of them and their problems, I have already touched upon. Beyond them, we can find (Improved) Channel Resistance, the extra boon feats, +4 to Ride and Handle Animal and Ride as a class skill (Yay?) and some problematic ones that could use a couple of minimum levels – like one that forces anyone witnessing you attack someone, as not even an option, make a Will-save or become shaken. Still has a hex-caveat, but this should have a maximum range at least. Undead Fortification has no prerequisites either, not has getting freeze or an unnatural aura, though there, I do understand why. Compared with +2 on Disguise checks and losing the disgusting trait, the power-differences should be readily apparent, though. Two feats deserve special mention: Remove Head and Remove Hand (both require at least 4 levels, thankfully) – these are both macabre, somewhat situational, remarkable and offer some interesting tactical options – they represent, if not in perfection, then certainly in style, the high point of this pdf for me.
None of the classes get favored class options and there are no alternate racial traits herein.
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level – I only encountered a couple of formal issues in the rules-language, though there are some serious issues with some design-decisions. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports fitting stock-art. The pdf has no bookmarks, which represents a serious comfort-detriment as far as I’m concerned.
Okay, let me get this straight: Jeff Gomez’ undead paragon classes herein aren’t bad per se. They are, however, significantly less versatile and refined than I expected them to be. The low price point does alleviate this slightly, but not completely – personally, I wouldn’t allow any of the classes herein at my table – the cheesing-issues are pretty blatant and while one could try to justify the exploits by the nature of the undead, ultimately there are plenty of 3pp-options that don’t have to resort to the like to make an option work. Beyond that, even if I’d allow them, I’d honestly doubt that any of my players would go for them – the tricks and abilities presented are simply not that interesting and while the vampire’s engine could have carried a vastly superior class, it is trapped in a fragile, rather unimpressive representation of the trope. If you don’t mind infinite healing exploits, then this may provide some fun for you -the pdf isn’t all bad and pretty cheap, after all, and the classes, while not necessarily balanced, are at least functional. Still, personally, I can’t really find any reason to introduce these to the table. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this pdf here on OBS.