Epic Insights12/08/2002


Transformational Prestige Class Epic Progressions



Some characters pursue a prestige class not simply to gain new abilities, but to change into another form of being. These classes, sometimes called "transformational" prestige classes, include such varied options as the alienist, the oozemaster, and the fang of Lolth. Unlike most prestige classes, these classes are constructed with an end in mind: the transformation into another type of creature. For this reason, they don't lend themselves to an epic progression as readily as the simpler prestige classes.

For one thing, transformational classes don't always demonstrate clear patterns of class feature improvement. Even when they do, the pattern may not be open-ended -- it may lead only to the "destination" of the final transformation -- or it may not be balanced for infinite progression.

Secondly, there's the simple question of "How does the character become more of creature type X than he already is?" Once you've become an outsider, a dragon, a vermin, or (Pelor help you) an ooze, what's left to accomplish?

This column answers those questions for three transformational prestige classes from Tome and Blood, presenting an epic progression of each: the acolyte of the skin, the dragon disciple, and the elemental savant. In each case, I show some of the thought that went into the design, giving you a "behind the curtain" look at how I built these unique epic progressions, and where I had to bend the existing guidelines. Use these examples to help guide your creation of other transformational prestige class epic progressions. Players and DMs should work together to create interesting, exciting epic versions of these very special classes.

Acolyte of the Skin (Outsider)

By 10th level, the acolyte of the skin is permanently bonded to his fiendish epidermis, transforming his type to outsider. He has a +2 natural armor bonus, a +2 modifier to Dexterity and Constitution, cold and fire resistance 20, 120-ft. darkvision, and a variety of supernatural and spell-like abilities related to his fiendish nature. However, other than the character's spells-per-day progression and bonus feats, no clear pattern of ability gain exists.

Therefore, to continue the acolyte's "journey" into fiendishness, we must extrapolate additional class features for the character. We can do this by examining the half-fiend template, as well as the common powers possessed by demons and devils.

A half-fiend has the following ability modifiers: Str +4, Dex +4, Con +2, Int +4, and Cha +2, which substantially exceeds what the acolyte gains. Occasional ability modifiers might be a good place to start for class features.

In addition, the half-fiend has a list of a dozen potential spell-like abilities, only two of which (poison and summon fiend) the acolyte shares in any form, as well as poison immunity and acid and electricity resistance 20. Here, then, are other good options for the epic character.

Looking at demons and devils, we find that telepathic communication is a common ability. They tend to have high Strength and Constitution, and many are highly intelligent, wise, or charismatic (or all three).

From these elements we put together a reasonable epic class progression for the acolyte of the skin.

Hit Die: d4.

Skill Points at Each Additional Level: 2 + Int modifier.

Spells: The epic acolyte's caster level increases by 1 every even-numbered level gained above 10th. In addition, at every even-numbered level, the epic acolyte of the skin gains new spells per day as if he had also gained a level in whatever spellcasting class he belonged to before he added the prestige class, up to the number of spells per day possessed by a 20th-level character of that class.

Physical Power (Ex): At 11th level, and every 10 levels thereafter, the epic acolyte of the skin gains a permanent +2 bonus to Strength or Constitution (character's choice).

Poison Immunity (Ex): The epic acolyte of the skin becomes immune to poison at 11th level.

Fiendish Heritage (Sp): At 13th level, and every 4 levels thereafter (17th, 21st, and so on), the acolyte of the skin gains one daily use of each of the following powers: desecrate, unholy blight, and blasphemy. Use the character's acolyte of the skin level as the caster level.

Acid Resistant (Ex): At 14th level, the fiendish skin grants acid resistance 20.

Improved Symbiosis: At 15th level, and every 5 levels thereafter, the enhancement bonus needed to bypass the damage reduction of the epic acolyte of the skin increases by +1 (to DR 20/+2 at 15th level, DR 20/+3 at 20th level, and so forth).

Mental Power (Ex): At 16th level, and every 10 levels thereafter, the epic acolyte of the skin gains a permanent +2 bonus to Intelligence or Charisma (character's choice).

Electricity Resistant (Ex): At 18th level, the fiendish skin grants electricity resistance 20.

Telepathy (Su): A 19th-level acolyte of the skin can communicate telepathically with any creature within 100 feet that has a language.

Bonus Feats: The epic acolyte of the skin gains a bonus feat (selected from the list of epic acolyte of the skin feats) every 4 levels after 8th.

Epic Acolyte of the Skin Bonus Feat List: Armor Skin, Energy Resistance, Epic Spell Penetration, Epic Toughness, Extended Life Span, Improved Combat Casting, Improved Darkvision, Improved Spell Capacity, Spell Knowledge.

Acolyte

Level

Special
11 Physical power, poison immunity
12 Bonus feat
13 Fiendish heritage (1/day)
14 Acid resistant
15 Improved symbiosis
16 Bonus feat, mental power
17 Fiendish heritage (2/day)
18 Electricity resistant
19 Telepathy
20 Bonus feat, improved symbiosis

Dragon Disciple (Dragon)

Perhaps the most symbolic of the transformational prestige classes, the path of the dragon disciple allows a character to become the most iconic monster of the D&D game: a dragon.

Along the way to reaching dragon apotheosis, the dragon disciple gains claw and bite attacks, natural armor, wings, size, and, of course, a breath weapon. But in most cases, these are only pale reflections of the power of a true dragon. This suggests that the best route for the epic dragon disciple is to improve upon his already formidable draconic powers.

Because the dragon disciple's bonus spell progression doesn't follow an easily discernible pattern, and because the class is quite potent enough without it, the epic progression presented below does not continue the bonus spells.

Hit Die: d12.

Skill Points at Each Additional Level: 2 + Int modifier.

Natural Armor: At 11th level, and every 3 levels thereafter, the dragon disciple's natural armor bonus increases by +1 (to +5 at 11th, +6 at 14th, and so on).

Wing Slam: At 12th level, the dragon disciple gains the ability to make two wing slam attacks each round (assuming he is at least Medium-size). Wing attacks deal the damage listed in the table below plus one-half the dragon disciple's Strength bonus, and are at a -5 penalty to the attack bonus.

Breath Weapon Increase: At 13th level, and every 3 levels thereafter, the epic dragon disciple's breath weapon increases in power and frequency of use. The damage dealt by the breath weapon increases by 2 dice (if it deals 6 dice of damage at 10th level) or by 1 die (if it deals 3 dice of damage at 10th level). The additional dice are of the same type normally dealt by the dragon disciple's breath weapon. In addition, the save DC for the breath weapon increases by 1 point, and the range increases as shown in the table below. Finally, the dragon disciple gains one additional daily use of his breath weapon, though he must wait 1d4 rounds before each use.

Enlargement: At 15th level, and every 10 levels thereafter, the dragon disciple's size increases by one step (such as from Large to Huge), to a maximum of Colossal size. The change in size affects the dragon disciple's base natural weapon damage (see below). Apply the appropriate new size modifier to the character's attacks and AC.

If the dragon disciple is already Colossal, he instead gains a +2 bonus to Strength.

Tail Slap: At 17th level, the dragon disciple grows a serpentine tail that he can use to deliver tail slap attacks. A tail slap deals the listed damage plus 1 1/2 times the dragon disciple's Strength bonus and is at a -5 penalty to the attack bonus.

Spell Resistance (Ex): The 18th-level dragon disciple gains spell resistance equal to 20 + his class level.

Blindsight (Ex): The dragon disciple gains blindsight at 20th level, allowing him to ascertain creatures by nonvisual means just as a dragon does. The range of this ability is 30 feet at 20th level, and it increases by 30 feet every 10 levels thereafter.

Dragon Disciple Natural Attacks and Breath Weapon Range
Size Bite Claw Wing* Tail Slap** Line (length) Cone (length)
Small 1d4 1d3 n/a n/a 60 ft. 30 ft.
Medium-size 1d6 1d4 1d3 n/a 60 ft. 30 ft.
Large 1d8 1d6 1d4 1d6 60 ft. 30 ft.
Huge 2d6 1d8 1d6 1d8 100 ft. 50 ft.
Gargantuan 2d8 2d6 1d8 2d6 120 ft. 60 ft.
Colossal 4d6 2d8 2d6 2d8 140 ft. 70 ft.
*Gained at 12th level.
**Gained at 17th level.

Bonus Feats: The epic dragon disciple gains a bonus feat (selected from the list of epic dragon disciple feats) every 5 levels after 10th.

Epic Dragon Disciple Bonus Feat List: Armor Skin, Damage Reduction, Epic Prowess, Epic Skill Focus (Knowledge [arcana]), Epic Toughness, Extended Life Span, Flyby Attack*, Great Charisma, Great Constitution, Great Strength, Hover*, Improved Combat Casting, Improved Darkvision, Improved Spell Capacity, Improved Spell Resistance, Snatch*, Spell Knowledge, Wingover*.

*Non-epic feat. Treat the dragon disciple's age category as one-half his class level for the purpose of the Hover feat.

Dragon Disciple

Level

Special
11 Natural armor +5
12 Wing slam
13 Breath weapon increase
14 Natural armor +6
15 Bonus feat, enlargement
16 Breath weapon increase
17 Natural armor +7, tail slap
18 Spell resistance
19 Breath weapon increase
20 Bonus feat, natural armor +8, blindsight

Elemental Savant (Elemental)

At first glance, the elemental savant seems to make for an easy epic progression. Her resistance, elemental focus, and elemental penetration all follow regular patterns of improvement over the 10 levels of the class, suggesting that all one needs to do to continue into epic levels is continue the patterns.

Unfortunately, this is one of those places where the guidelines in the Epic Level Handbook simply don't work. Since the elemental savant gains total immunity to her chosen energy type at 10th level, continued improvement of her energy resistance serves no purpose. And if we simply grant an additional +1 to save DCs and spell penentration checks every 3 levels, these numbers quickly outstrip anything obtainable by other spellcasters. By the 20th level of elemental savant (minimum 30th-level character), the save DCs for her chosen energy type will be 7 points higher than those of a typical wizard or sorcerer (turning a difficult save into a near-impossible one), and a typical creature's spell resistance simply won't offer more than a speed bump.

That's not to say that these features can't continue to improve -- they just have to do so more slowly than at non-epic levels. And in addition, we can peruse the elementals in the Monster Manual for other options. Certainly the save DC against her special elemental attacks (whirlwind, burn, or vortex) can continue to improve. The ability to transform into an elemental seems like a natural ability to grant, as is damage reduction and other powers traditionally associated with elementals.

Hit Die: d4.

Skill Points at Each Additional Level: 2 + Int modifier.

Spells: The epic elemental savant's caster level increases by 1 every level gained above 10th. In addition, at every level, the epic elemental savant gains new spells per day as if she had also gained a level in whatever spellcasting class she belonged to before she added the prestige class, up to the number of spells per day possessed by a 20th-level character of that class.

Elemental Special Attacks: The save DC against the epic elemental savant's special attacks (whirlwind, burn, or vortex) is equal to 20 + 1/2 her number of class levels above 10th + Con modifier.

Elemental Transformation (Su): At 11th level, the elemental savant gains the ability to shapechange into a Large or smaller elemental of her chosen type (air, earth, fire, or water) once per day as a sorcerer of her class level. She also gains the elemental's supernatural special attacks and special qualities.

For every 3 additional levels gained above 11th, the savant can shapechange one additional time per day (twice at 14th, three times at 17th, and so on).

For every 5 additional levels gained above 11th, the elemental savant can take the form of an elemental of one size category greater (Huge at 16th, greater at 21st, and elder at 26th).

Elemental Focus (Ex): The save DC for any spell using the epic elemental savant's chosen type of energy increases to +4 at 12th level, and by another +1 every 6 levels thereafter.

Damage Reduction (Su): At 13th level, the epic elemental savant gains DR 10/+1. The enhancement bonus required to bypass this DR increases by +1 every six levels thereafter (to 10/+2 at 19th, 10/+3 at 25th, and so forth).

Ability Increase: The 13th-level epic elemental savant gains a permanent +2 increase to an ability score based on her chosen element: Strength (earth), Dexterity (air or fire), or Constitution (water). Every 10 levels thereafter, she gains an additional +2 increase to the same ability score.

Elemental Penetration (Ex): The competence bonus to the epic elemental savant's caster level checks to defeat spell resistance increases to +4 at 15th level, and by another +1 every 6 levels thereafter.

Bonus Feats: The epic elemental savant gains a bonus feat (selected from the list of epic elemental savant feats) every 4 levels after 10th.

Epic Elemental Savant Bonus Feat List: Automatic Quicken Spell, Automatic Silent Spell, Automatic Still Spell, Damage Reduction, Epic Fortitude (earth, water only), Epic Reflexes (air, fire only), Epic Spell Focus, Epic Spell Penetration, Epic Spellcasting, Epic Toughness (earth, water only), Extended Life Span, Great Constitution (water only), Great Dexterity (air, fire only), Great Strength (earth only), Ignore Material Components, Improved Combat Casting, Improved Darkvision, Improved Spell Capacity, Intensify Spell, Multispell, Penetrate Damage Reduction, Permanent Emanation, Spell Knowledge, Spell Opportunity, Spell Stowaway, Spontaneous Spell, Superior Initiative (air, fire only).

Elemental

Level

Special
11 Elemental transformation (Large) 1/day
12 Elemental focus +4
13 Damage reduction 10/+1, ability increase
14 Elemental transformation 2/day, bonus feat
15 Elemental penetration +4
16 Elemental transformation (Huge)
17 Elemental transformation 3/day
18 Elemental focus +5, bonus feat
19 Damage reduction 10/+2
20 Elemental transformation 4/day

Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the Epic Level Handbook, and grab a copy of theTome and Blood. Of course, you'll also need the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual!

About the Author

Andy Collins is the co-designer of the Epic Level Handbook. Read more about him and his projects at www.andycollins.net.

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