A custom class for community review - Nordanbjörn

They assure me over at rpg.net that this is a cool and easy-going little community, so I’ll leap right in with my first post and put this thing I wrote out for critique and comment.
It started for me with the panserbjørne from Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Bear vikings in armor? Yes. Yes, I want that. A little research on the mythological and legendary underpinnings turned up some great Inuit, Russian, and Scandinavian stories on sapient bears or people turned into bears (White Bear King Valemon, for example). I’ve created a character of this type in several fantasy games with good results, so I began to consider how to implement it in a game in the D&D family tree. I was noodling with something for the Rules Cyclopedia, and then I stumbled across ACKS and found it marvelous. So in a surge of initial enthusiasm, I wrote up this custom nonhuman class - Nordanbjörn (Northern Bears).
It’s pretty much complete, lacking only the domain management components which I still need to work up for it to be properly finished. I eyeballed the game balance. It’s probably not ideal, but my novice eye can’t spot anything too game-breaking. My priority was to maintain the bearlike stuff as much as possible, and meter it out over the class’s levels. The four bear writeups in the Monsters section provided an easy way to mark the main ‘upgrade’ points in the progression. A goal was to make the size and stance of the Nordanbjörn matter in mechanically meaningful ways, both advantageous and disadvantageous. So I hunted out as many mechanical hooks in the rules where being increasingly large would matter.
It was also important that this class not just seem like a fighter in a bear costume, so fluff and mechanics needed to differ enough that it played different and felt different from a human fighter.
Anyhow, enough blather. I wrote it up in google docs, and used the simple publish function to make it available.
Preliminary apologies for poor writing, bad grammar, and any formatting aberrations caused by gdoc’s web publishing.
Nordanbjörn - The Northern Bears

A followup - one simplification for this class I was considering would be to consolidate all the bonus/penalty numbers for being big and ferocious and bearlike and make it a single number which would serve as a bonus in some situations and a penalty in others. This could be spread out across more levels rather than ratcheting up at certain key levels, and applying it would have some guidelines in the class writeup and room for player and Judge interpretation at the table.
edited to add - the easiest bonus progression here would be the same as attack (2 per 3). It’s already a number expressed in the writeup.

Linguistic note: “nordan-” sounds poetic in swedish since the only practical word which has it is “nordanvind” (wind from the north) which itself is archaic. So that’s good shit. Also the level titles are great.
Super cool concept!
Feeback: the bears grow with experience and not age :wink:
Without delving in to the math too much: fictionally I think you can ramp up the food requirement, especially since the bear can carry more. It should probably have modified movement rates instead of just increased cap. for carrying. I don’t know how much a real bear has to eat but that is secondary to the feel of it.
Why the great save vs. paralysis? It already gets a bonus to close combat stuff when it grows.
Why the stat requirements? Since it is already implied that the attribute scale is different with this class (the bonus to bash doors) you might as well go all the way and say that 10 is an average bear but it’s still stronger than most humans. Or is it about scarcity?
Another way to calculate the XP in a “fair” way would be to look at the ACKS reincarnation rules. I think its 3,500 XP to be a monster (although they don’t get the additional goodies this class has so 4,000 XP per level seems about right.
I’ll delve in to the numbers later, since I’ve been trying to make a bunch of different fighting classes (but not quite succeeded) I’d love to see how this one performs. I imagine it should be worse than a fighter per XP because of the additional benefits (and to not turn the game into Dungeons&Bears, ACKS is really based on Halflings&Clerics ;>).

I had help from a gracious native speaker on rpg.net to get the poetical phrasing down better. My initial google translate version was “nordligbjorn” which would have sounded weird to a speaker.
On the Paralysis save… I went with good there because they’r meant to be big and hard to stop and very hard to hold. They just shrug that kind of thing off. Force of nature stuff. I tried to think about which saves would reflect toughness and power and which would reflect agility and maneuverability. Can’t say I succeeded, but that was what I was trying for. Since this is the throw used to resist wrestling and grappling, it would be a weird if a huge bear was easier to wrestle to the ground than a human.
On the Strength thing… mostly, I was thinking “Bears are strong, so high Strength requirement” and also to provide for some rarity. Me, I’d never say NO to somebody who wanted to play a certain kind of character, but some tables like to have some mechanical gate guards restricting access so I figured it would be easy for somebody like me to fudge (roll and assign, drop a score by 2 to add 1 to another) or somebody else to allow on a roll-only basis. I could probably drop the req’s to 10 or 12, and tweak the way bear cover works.

I’ve made a few attempts at trying to adapt monstrous playable races to a system that’s compatible with the class-creation rules from the Player’s Companion, and I can make a few observations:
Obviously, d8 hit dice (that’s 2 base point, and 1000xp).
They clearly have at least Fighting 2 (2 base points, 1000xp).
I’d count natural attacks as a fighting style, so (combined with no shields or weapons) you have 1 of 3 styles (two trade-offs, 300xp).
I’d count the multiple attack routine as a very powerful ability: Probably 2 powers + 1/additional attack, so 4 for claw/claw/bite.
I’d count the base damage increase of the claws and bites as a power each for each rank, but since it’s graduated decrease it. So monsters tend to start claws at 1d2 (4 increases), and bite at d6 (3 increases). Probably 3 total powers.
They have no weapons (5 trade-offs), and the lack of missile weapons means no missile damage bonus (1) (6 trade-offs, 900xp).
So, you’ve traded off 8 powers, but incurred 7 so far. They also have swashbuckling baked in, so that’s 8 powers. Your base xp so far is 3200xp.
They have something more-or-less like survival, so that’s an “unpaid” power.
The brute strength bonus is like the melee damage bonus, but with a baseline increase of 2 (2 powers, modeled after fighting styles proficiency). So that’s 3 unpaid powers.
The bears are big, which has some drawbacks but also some benefits. On the whole, I’d count this as 2 custom powers (given the missile shielding): 5 unpaid powers.
The reaction rolls are a wash.
Seeing that you get monstrous ability to attack at level 5+, you might just model this as Fighting 3. That would bump you up to 5 base points, and bump your base xp up to 3700xp and 5 unpaid powers.
If you follow the dwarf pattern of racial power costs, this is close to a 1 base point race allocation, which covers the 5 unpaid powers but bumps your xp cost up to 4100xp and lowers your level limit to 11 (for 6 base points).
So, I don’t think you’re totally out of the ballpark eyeballing it- just slightly low on the base xp.

Addendum: the unified bonus you were talking about would work as the thing I described to model your brute strength bonus- the standard Fighter melee damage bonus for your level + 2.
I’m also treating bonus powers for the class and those for the race as fungible, but if there was another bear class you’d want to separate the two.

That’s pretty sweet - no idea I was that close. I have not seen those class building rules, so I was winging it. I cribbed the XP from the Eleven Spellsword because it was high, and they had lots of stuff they could do (primary magic and primary fighting, plus elf stuff).
I had to give the bears the monster’s 5hd attacking ability because they have no way to wield weapons which can pierce that sort of supernatural defense otherwise, and it seemed fitting.

I’ve always wondered: What happens to the bear when he claws a wight?

At first level they have a significantly better damage output than a fighter. Since a full grown regular bear has 4 HD how about making another step that has the attack series 1D2/1D2/1D4? This makes them an itty bitty more dangerous than 1st level fighters with two handed weapons. Since a bear in armor is fucking awesome and everyone will use it anyway I would give them a D10 HD (just so they feel meatier) and say their skin is a flat +2 to AC and that armor fitted for them always have gaps making it 2/3 as effective (so a bear plate armor gives +4 AC and bear in mail is +3 AC). This way bears can take more hits than humans but won’t have better AC.
The 5 HD ferocity thing was inspired.

I was thinking there’d only be this bear class - I tried to load out their proficiency list so you could customize them a bit. Get performance and magical music to make a singing skald, or pick up some combat oriented ones for a mercenary, or wilderness ones for a scout or hunter type. But at their core, they’re big beasts who can bite through a man’s skull.

wilmer- if you bump them up to d10 hit dice, their max level goes down to 10 and their base xp goes up to 4,600xp.

Another thing to take in to account: other classes get +1 damage per STR mod, bears get +1 x 3. I dunno if this is a bad thing but a fix could be like this:
13-15 = 1DX/1DX/1DY+1
16-17 = 1DX+1/1DX+1/1DY
18 = 1DX+1/1DX+1/1DY+1
for symmetry.

On attacking a wight - I hate those guys so much. Probably a Judge’s call. Is the wight’s touch a deliberate act or an involuntary function of their nature? If voluntary, then it’ll be no prob to bite and claw the hell out of them (assuming they have hit 5th level and can even do so), otherwise… yeah, otherwise bear is totally screwed. There’s no percentage in fighting those guys if there’s any way to avoid it. Level draining bastards.
Let me go back and do some revisions on the class. I’ll create a new doc so the old one will be available for comparison, and post when it’s completed.
Thanks all,

I’d want to avoid that kind of bookkeeping: If the multiple attacks seem to exaggerate the benefit of STR, I’d make that ability more expensive.

Charlatan: if you look at that forumula it’s super simple and you only need to look at it once in the characters life time unless STR changes. What it simply says is that the bonus to damage is only counted once per attack routine and that bears with +1 dmg use it for their bite, bears with +2 use +1 for either claw and those with +3 get +1 for both claws and bite.

A simple rule might be “you can only add your STR bonus to one attack in a round”. Meaning, one powerful claw attack, one weaker follow-up, and a regular bite.

That makes it subtly better unless you commit to which attack in the series it is before rolling. Sorry if I’m a pain in the butt but I groove on this concept so much I want it to be perfect!

I think using that d2/d2/d4 starting progression and adding STR once (say, to the first attack that lands in the routine) feels about right.
Say bear (STR 16/+2) and Fighter (STR 16/+2). Both first level, and both have the same chance to hit. Bear rolls three times, fighter once. Give the fighter a weapon inflicting a d8. The fighter is doing 1d8+3 (+2 for STR, +1 for class bonus). Against an unarmored foe, he’s got roughly even odds, same as the bear. His max is 11 points of damage, his minimum is 3. If the bear hits with all attacks, he does a max of 10 (max die rolls and the STR bonus once). But landing all those attacks and rolling best damage on all three rolls is really pretty unlikely. He’s got a much wider range of possible results, and is probably going to do about 5 or 6 points of damage typically. I think the main difference is that he’s got a greater chance to do some damage because of the three attack rolls. The fighter will probably average more when you compare successful hits, but when you factor in the rounds where the fighter totally whiffs, the bear comes out ahead longer term. I don’t want to drill too deep into this though, and start trying to balance DPR and statistics. I think the fighter comes out better at 1st level regardless, because of his armor and weapons. He’ll have a better AC than the bear, and will start with a ranged attack. Things get weirder as the bear gets tougher and bigger and can afford some barding, but at first I don’t think the fighter is going to feel underpowered in comparison.
edit - especially when you compare them both to a Spellsword. That smug jerk has less hit points, but he’s got armor and weapons and magic to throw around.

Hey Ben! waves It is a friendly, polite place around here, made all the more so by your appearance, matey! :slight_smile:

Re. paralysis saves to rule in wrestling, etc: there’s a rule about special maneuvers between opponents of vastly different size or unusual size on p. 110, which sets up those bears nicely without additional save bonuses – but should then probably get a mention in the writeup.