D&D Archives03/21/2003


Savage Species Chat: Playing Monstrous Heroes
Featuring Rich Redman, Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, and Sean K Reynolds



Friday, February 28, 2003

The following text about Savage Species, a game supplement that provides you with rules for playing monstrous characters, was transcribed from a special Wizards of the Coast online community chat session. Take a look at what questions the fans asked the designers!

wizo_randal: Come one, come all to the Savage Species: Playing Monstrous Heroes chat starting right now. Guest Speakers are Rich Redman, Sean K Reynolds, and Jennifer Clarke-Wilkes. Let's get to the questions.

navonodsemaj: The survivor has a base attack progression of 0. Don't you think this sets a bad precedent, with an official prestige class having a worse base attack bonus than the wizard? It could be used to justify many horridly powerful spellcasting prestige classes, for example.

rich_redman: Actually, as I just posted today on the boards, I don't think it's a bad precedent. The point of the class is foregoing combat to improve defenses.

josh_kablack: Why the title Savage Species instead of the original Tooth and Claw? Are there any races that you consider especially savage, and if so what are they?

rich_redman: Well, for one thing, there was a book from another company about dinosaurs called Tooth and Claw. We worked out the other title with our Marketing Department.

seankreynolds: If I remember correctly, the management wasn't sure if people would know what a book called Tooth and Claw was about.

ocelot_fire: How many "savage" new weapons did you research for the book?

wotc_jcw: The weapons and special items were contributed by a variety of people. A lot of these came from people's own campaigns or just straight from imagination. We picked the best of the best.

aaolden: Are there any unique things to keep in mind when making monster classes for 1 HD creatures, such as drow or standard races with template. For instance, how would I make a half-fiend human monster class?

seankreynolds: I'd look at the total ECL of the character and spread the abilities over the levels of that class. With 1 HD creatures you have to be careful, because they're not going to gain any HD after 1st-level until they've reached their ECL.

navonodsemaj: If the survivor prestige class is supposed to be so geared toward defense that it sacrifices base attack bonus progression completely, then why the measly d6 HD? One of the biggest components of defense in D&D is being able to take a hit.

rich_redman: If I remember correctly, David Eckelberry designed that class not to be taken all at once, but occasionally over time to seriously boost saving throws. In addition, the bonuses you get from Uncanny Dodge and Evasion aren't to be sneezed at.

josh_kablack: I have a question about the emancipated spawn prestige class. Am I reading it right in that the spawn's former class abilities do not factor into ECL until the character gains rediscovery at 3rd-level, even though at 2nd-level, the character may recall class features?

wotc_jcw: This is a difficult one. When I wrote the class it had more levels. They were compressed. The 2nd-level recall is only limited, so it would not fully advance the ECL. That's my take on it, at any rate.

garenthal: I love the prestige classes, but the survivor class looks a little funky to me. There is a prerequisite that the class potentially violates. Should this be just an entry requirement?

rich_redman: As far as I know, all prerequisites are entry requirements for prestige classes. I can see why that one is odd, most prerequisites are "X or better," and that's one that you suddenly "break" at some point. Consider it only for entry.

aaolden: How do templates and the monster class concept work since a human would require the HD of a standard class?

rich_redman: People have asked me this in another context -- most 1 HD humanoids actually have a level of warrior, so I'd build the class to "achieve" that dubious distinction. In general, adapting monster classes to single HD creatures doesn't work well.

seankreynolds: I'd either make the template a separate class or make it to include the 1d8 humanoid base HD (which amounts to what Rich said).

navonodsemaj: The "Cumbrous" line of feats grant a huge advantage when activated, but at a cost. What if the character with a Cumbrous feat could somehow circumvent the downsides to the feat? For example, a paladin is immune to fear, and he has Cumbrous Will. Cumbrous Will's negative effect is being shaken, which is a fear effect. Paladins, as everyone knows, are immune to fear at 2nd-level or higher.

wotc_jcw: Shaken does not have to result only from fear, I think. In this case, it's more like exhaustion.

rich_redman: Okay, navon is right according to the Dungeon Master's Guide -- it's a fear effect. If I were the DM, I would do one of two things. Either I would rule that the effect takes precedence, even if immune to fear effects (so take it, Mr. Paladin), or I would rule that creatures/characters couldn't take the feats if they are immune to the side effects.

wotc_jcw: So undead couldn't take Cumbrous Dodge, for example?

rich_redman: That's one way to rule it, yes.

ocelot_fire: For a roleplayer who has not seen the book, what new and interesting stuff is in there that will make me want to have it? What in the book are you most proud of?

rich_redman: I think that's two different questions. I'm proud of the entire book, as a whole. For the roleplayer, this is a very mechanical book. The focus is on making monstrous characters work within D&D (coincidentally revealing that there are places where monster rules don't synch up well with the PC rules). I've seen an advance copy of Races of Faerûn, and it's chock full of the cool roleplaying stuff many people want. Moreover, it's gorgeous. You might want to check out both.

coyoteoldman: Do creatures like the gnoll (that are 2nd-level monstrous characters) effectively miss their 3rd-level feat because they are 2 HD monsters with a +1 level adjustment?

wotc_jcw: The higher-level creatures are tricky, which is why not many are suitable for PCs.

josh_kablack: Is the illithid savant's acquire class feature itself a class feature for purposes of this ability?

wotc_jcw: I guess it is. Do you mean one could eat another savant and pick up all its absorbed features? That wasn't the intent, even if that's how it came out.

rich_redman: My response would be, "Neat, you get the ability to acquire class features, which you already had."

meldhor: How did you deal with alignment for the races since I assume you could end up with many evil characters?

wotc_jcw: Well, PCs always break the mold.

rich_redman: Jennifer's right. We talk about how even races that are "always" a certain alignment can have exceptions. We also talk about evil campaigns.

gothenem: Okay, a 1st-level commoner can take the survivor prestige class when they advance to 2nd-level. Is this an oversight, or was it intended?

rich_redman: I think it's a brilliant feature! Who needs it more than the lowly commoner! Honestly, I never noticed that before.

wotc_jcw: That's one tough farmer! But hey, when manticores are raiding your flocks, why not?

beefbone: Do monster class levels count toward total character levels for purposes of gaining feats, max ranks, ability score adjustments, and so on, or only the monster's actual HD?

rich_redman: If you're using monster classes, the class gives ability adjustments, as class abilities. Similarly, you're given feats by the class. If you add them up, they should add up to the same number of feats the basic monster in the MM has. I emphasize should -- max ranks are determined by the monster's HD, as normal.

ocelot_fire: So what piece of the book brings a special tear to your eye?

wotc_jcw: In my case, the templates. I had a lot of fun with these! I still smile that I got the symbiote (and the bugsucker) in there. But hey, I've never had my name on the cover before.

rich_redman: I'm pleased, oddly enough, with the tables in the back. They were grueling to create, but I'm so glad the monsters are there by ECL and by name. I also think the anthropomorphic animal table was just a good idea, period.

rich_redman: And I just want to say what a pleasure it was working with Jennifer and Sean. They're great, creative, smart, funny people.

navonodsemaj: Monstrous spellcasters of high ECL are unable to obtain the most powerful spells without going into epic rules, yet there are many stories of high ECL races being quite prodigious spellcasters or psionicists (such as drow, illithids, fiends, and so on). How should one remedy this? Would a special "monster mage" prestige class be appropriate (for example, the beholder mage from Monsters of Faerûn)? Otherwise, the low ECL races will produce all of the great mages, leaving others with just their cantrips and spell-like abilities.

rich_redman: While that's true for monstrous spellcasting characters of high ECL, it's irrelevant to monsters. They can chug along for quite awhile adding levels to their CR. Having said that, this is another question for how epic rules function with monsters and Savage Species, and I'm not equipped to answer that.

flavius_aecius: As we have seen in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, there is a special table for calculating level advancement if the race you pick has CR higher than 1, by requiring more XP to level up. If I take a regular human character of 20th-level, he would be okay, but when the drow of the party reaches the 20th-level, the drow would be CR 22, while the human is only 20. How do you maintain the balance, knowing that once both characters reach the 20th-level, the extra XP will make no difference? Epic progression?

rich_redman: CR is irrelevant to XP. Monsters use CR and advance when the DM decides they should. Monstrous characters like those in Savage Species use ECL, and they level based on that. The system is designed so that eventually, all the characters are leveling about the same time. So the monster character should hit ECL 20 about the same time nonmonster characters hit character level 20. After that, you're in to epic, and that's something I know little or nothing about.

garenthal: Your drow should reach effective character level 20 (18 class levels) at the same time as the rest of the party hits level 20. By that point, the DM should have made the choice of whether to terminate the campaign at level 20 or reach it into epic play. The drow won't go to level 19 (ECL 21) unless everyone else is going to level 21.

aaolden: With each of the prestige classes, you provided "iconic" monstrous character write-ups. What was the reason for including them? I think it's an excellent idea, and I've seen it in third-party work, too.

wotc_jcw: As examples, primarily, to show how the classes work.

rich_redman: I'm not sure they're iconic, but I thought it was important to give DMs examples they could use straight out of the book. Plus, we gave rules for playing monsters right out of the Monster Manual, so why not give prestige class characters you can use right out of Savage Species?

shadowwarrior: Is there a formula you use to determine ECL according to CR and special abilities, or is it more a judgment call?

wotc_jcw: The book contains guidelines, but in the end it comes down to judgment calls and a lot of playtesting. It's impossible to quantify completely. Comparison to example creatures is a good place to start.

rich_redman: There is no formula. Like CR (which, doesn't enter into the calculations), there's a system for estimating given in the book. We included "acid test" examples to show how to apply the guidelines and some places where you should ignore them. I posted to the board a collection of estimation guidelines that were cut from the book. They're all in there, they're just not collected on a couple pages. We knew when we wrote it that there was no way everyone would agree with our level adjustments. In fact, the Savage Species board is rife with "discussion" about the accuracy of various level adjustments.

wotc_jcw: A designer can estimate the ECL for a new creature she's designing, if it's suitable for prestige classes.

wizo_randal: Any closing comments or some shameless plugs for up-and-coming new works?

rich_redman: Well, my new book Staves of Ascendance is available on www.RPGNow.com.Come by www.thegamemechanics.com and check out the work I do with Stan! and JD Wiker.

wotc_jcw: When we first brought out 3rd Edition D&D in a seminar at the end of GenCon, we got requests to do a "monstrous PCs" book -- this is the result. I'm really happy with it, and I hope it's what the fans were looking for. And I'm working on another book, this time through Green Ronin.

rich_redman: Thanks for being here tonight, folks. I was on the spot a couple of times, but it was fun.

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