Savage Tide Addendum – A Note on Characters
In working through my review of the Savage Tide Adventure Path, it occurs to me that I never bothered to illuminate the actual characters that we’d been running through the modules. I’m not entirely sure that it’s completely needed for the sake of reading the reviews, but there are some aspects of the character choices that shifted some of the focus of the game as it unfolded.
A bit of background, if you would permit… When my group was running through Legacy of Fire, we had something of a rotating crew for the Adventure Path. There were two mainstays, myself and another guy, and something like ten people that changed in and out, depending on schedules and the like. The GM was less than pleased with the shifting roster of characters, but the game tended to revolve around the two characters anyway, so it didn’t matter as much as it otherwise might have.
These two characters were fairly weirdly built. Because of the Achievement Feats that Paizo used briefly in Legacy, the Cleric spent a couple of modules being unable to fight effectively, as the one Feat he was chasing after hinged on his ability to cure damage while never inflicting it. This had the effect of pushing my Druid / Ranger into the prime combat role, backed up by his Animal Companion. A couple of Feats for my character were spent in maximizing the Animal Companion to serve as a second fighter on the field, and the rest of the build went into pushing my damage output as high as it could go while trying to push the Initiative Modifier to its limit.
In the end, the strategy tended to be pretty simple. My character would hit as hard and fast as he possibly could, and the Cleric would stand by to keep him conscious long enough to survive the ridiculous beatdown. The Cleric had to stay fairly equivalent in Armor Class, just to keep alive, and my character spent most of his time making sure that none of the relevant creatures got within range of the Cleric. And surprisingly, it worked.
As such, it became pretty evident that Clerics were a fine thing and worth keeping alive.
When we sat down to make up characters for Savage Tide, there was some debate. One of the players was the same guy that had played the Cleric in Legacy. While he enjoyed his Cleric well enough, he felt he’d done his time with that build and could let someone else take up the reigns. Since it looked like he was going to be one of two players for the game (we were later joined by a third player, a couple of sessions in), he floated the idea of playing two characters each, for the sake of balance. In short, he didn’t see being able to catch the same lightning in a bottle, as I wasn’t going to be playing the other half. Nothing against the other guy, but his experience with Pathfinder was pretty well minimal compared to my own. It’s what happens.
So, instead of working up a Cleric, the first player built a Dwarven Ranger and a Half-Elf Gun Mage. The second player ended up building a Gnome Druid and a Human Rogue. The third player, when he finally showed up, built a stock Human Barbarian, with something of a Lord Greystoke background. Sadly, this characterization has since been largely forgotten in the mean time, but such is life.
The Dwarven Ranger was a solidly built character, with very few frills. He’s remained pretty steady as the ‘wade into the center of combat and hope to beat something to death before it kills him’ sort of person. The same goes for the other player’s Rogue. The player is a lot more tactically driven in his characterization, but my tendency to not draw a lot of tactical maps has slowed down the utility of the character. It’s what happens, sadly. The Barbarian exists to charge into combat and deal as much damage as possible as quickly as possible. He has something of a glass cannon template on the character, as he’s only able to output a stupid amount of damage for a single round, but that’s usually enough to take care of most things.
The Gun Mage is a modified version of the Magus, with an emphasis on ranged combat with spells instead of melee. I’d loved the flavor of character class in the Iron Kingdoms setting (back when it was D20), but the power curve on the class was incredibly weak. With a little consideration, I brought over the flavor of the original and tweaked a couple of details on the Magus to make it work.
And well, I pretty much threw out the Firearms Rules that Paizo had put into their Ultimate Combat book, but that’s sort of to be expected. I’ve read a couple of accounts that even they regret putting those rules into play. Hence why such things don’t end up in Skull & Shackles, where it would make sense. In my variant, firearms are low-end magic items, functioning very similarly to crossbows.
Finally, there was the Gnomish Druid. For the most part, I can’t say anything terribly negative about the character, but this was one of those cases where the dreams of the player far outreached the practical aspects of the actual build. The player had in mind a snake-aspected Druid, where they’d have a venomous Animal Companion that would stealthily make its way into combat and lay low any takers. It was an interesting idea, but the reality of the rules wasn’t able to make it come close to the vision he had in mind. Snake companions will take a long time to be skilled enough to sneak like that, they will never have the Sneak Attack ability, and it would probably take custom feats to be able to make them able to instantly kill with their venom. While it would have been interesting, it would have taken a lot of work to make any part of his concept effective, and a practical Druid build – while dull at points – ended up serving a lot better. This is not to go into the whole ‘poison use’ aspect of things and the morally shaky ground of keeping the character non-evil. The same player felt that his Rogue should be able to use poisons without drawback, and I held to the hard lines of earlier editions, if nothing else.
Lacking any amount of curative magic, the characters fell back on Use Magic Device and a scattering of Wands. This worked well enough for the early levels, as there wasn’t much beyond the basic Cure Light and Moderate spells, there came a point (as noted in the Here There Be Monsters review) when the lack of spell versatility came up short.
The same thing happened with the Gun Mage.
This is not to say that any build of Magus is weak, by any means. The problem is that they’re extremely focused on being able to do a lot of damage and wreak holy hell on opponents. Given their narrow concentration, however, they have a tendency to lack utility spells when needed. Or the utility spells take a lot longer to show up than they would with a standard Wizard or Sorcerer. Nowhere is this more evident than with the spell Teleport. A normal Wizard is able to move around easily with its aid as of 9th level. For a Magus, they don’t have access to it until 13th level, by which point it’s almost been forgotten. This is not to mention the obvious nature of taking up a spell slot that would be better served with being able to deal damage.
The lack of Teleport is particularly crippling in Savage Tide, where the ability to access magic items and gear is severely curtailed by the remote nature of the setting. Farshore is hell and gone from Sasserine, where the player characters would be able to get hold of the necessary expendable magic, such as Wands and Potions. Which by odd coincidence, they were burning through at an increased rate of speed due to not having a Cleric in the party.
With the near death of the Gun Mage from Mummy Rot, the players collectively chose to retire the Druid into an NPC (she now trains dinosaurs for the villagers) and build out a Cleric for the second player’s second character. Part of this decision was the lack of curative versatility, and part of it owed directly to the fact that, at the time they brought in the new Cleric, she’d be close to the proper level for Raise Dead and Breath of Life. The player who had the Cleric in Legacy of Fire swears by the spell, and we’ve house ruled it to be included on the Spontaneous Casting list for Good Clerics of certain level. Compared to the expense of constantly buying new Raise Dead scrolls to carry along, this shift was considered wholly necessary.
In the mean time, the Magus invested money in Boots of Teleport to make up for his particular deficiency, being that transit back and forth to Sasserine is necessary enough to warrant the purchase. There are still certain shortcomings that a Magus retains, but compared to the lack of a Cleric, they’re much less insurmountable.