A custom class for community review - Nordanbjörn

A mention of that rule is in there, but part of the issue conceptually is that the old saving throw categories don’t provide much grip when trying to get a handle on what they mean beyond their specific zone of defense. Why is a magical effect from a wand different from one from a spell? Does the Blast save indicate good reflexes or resilience? I want the bears to be really tough and strong, but which saves would indicate that? I imagined their good paralysis save being the result of their raw power - they’d just plow through efforts to hold them immobile (rather than nimbly evade them). But being large, they’d have a lousy time evading AOE blasty stuff.
Some of the stuff coming out of the 5E design is intriguing to me - a saving throw or defense value for each ability score. That’s easy to grok.
Limits of the medium, I suppose.

The saving throws are abstract, and intentionally so.
For example, consider a character fighting an infectious zombie. If bitten, he must save v. Poison, with a failed save meaning he is infected with zombie-plague. Does a successful save v. poison mean that the character has resisted the infection, or does a successful save mean the character didn’t actually get bitten at all, just banged up/bruised by the impact of the attack? ACKS doesn’t say, and it’s left to the Judge’s interpretation.
In contrast, D&D 3.5 would say that resisting the zombie is either a Fort save or a Reflex save and that’s that. This has the advantage of clarity, but it has the disadvantage in that each saving throw can only be about one factor (toughness or reflexes or whatnot) rather than being multi-factorial.
Something to keep in mind about saves is that when “what do you save against” is unknown, it flows left-to-right. So, for example, blast-spells save v. Blast, not save v. Spell. By the time you get to save v. Spells you are dealing with ONLY spells that are not paralyzing, poison, death, blasts, or petrification, which means basically charms, mind control, and so on.
To answer your other questions:

  1. A wand is different from a spell because the spell effect is indirect rather than directly from the caster’s will, which makes mental effects easier to resist. (Wands that shoot fireballs are still saves v. Blast, remember).
  2. Blast is both good reflexes and resilience, as well as (perhaps) luck, favor of the goods, or counter-spells.
  3. Bears that are tougher and stronger than humans would have across the board better saves than humans against Paralyzation, Poison, and Blast, all other things being equal.

PS It’s very exciting to see you develop your class. Monstrous classes are challenging to design but this seems like it’d be quite fun. It would fit in really well in the Auran Empire’s Jutland campaign area.

Here’s an updated and revised version of the class. I went with the smaller starting damage for the attack routine, and added another level to it so there’s a bump there every other level. Most of the bonuses and penalties are now figured off a score called Beast Modifier (which I don’t like at all) which rates their bearishness. Almost all their advantages have a clear corresponding disadvantage, some of which are more telling than others. I tweaked the Blast save as Alex suggested, so it’s better than it was.
Northern Bears revised v0.2

Level title suggestions:
2nd level Stackplundr (ant hill raider/looter, bears like to hibernate beneath ant hills)
3rd level Stridsnalle (fighting teddy, nalle is an affectionate word for bear)
4th level Bamsekrigr (teddy warrior, bamse is an affectionate but arcaic word for bear)
6th level Stamkrigare (means tribal warrior but is a pun, björnstammen means the total count of bears)
7th level Storbjörn (big bear)
8th level Mördarbjörn (killer bear)
Or if you want a more sinister title: Mansjägare (man hunter) Mansdräper (man slayer) or maybe just Dräpr (slayer).
Wikipedia says Björn actually means brown and that the original nordic name for bear was taboo and is now forgotten (probably because writing it or saying it loud would summon them). The more you now!

I made a few additional tweaks to the class - clarifying a couple of things, and making the armor costs easier to figure out. Also, added in wilmer’s suggested titles.

This is great work. I’m really happy to see people going beyond the usual fantasy archetypes recently and coming up with some truly unique classes. It looks like the class creation rules from the Player’s Companion are going to be pretty popular.
Good to have you aboard, Bailywolf!

The size-based stuff I worked out for these guys could translate pretty easily to making a PC ogre or form the basis for a playable dragon subspecies. A small dragon presents some class building challenges, but also opportunities. Flight seems powerful, but isn’t all that amazing when the rest of the party is earthbound and they spend half their time doing high impact combat spelunking. You get the issue of breath weapon added to claw/claw/bite, but there’s cool opportunities there for sub-tables. Perhaps the dragonling is hatched not knowing what sort of dragon it will become, and at various key levels (moults) it develops new characteristics (randomly rolled), including getting a breath weapon at 5th or 9th.
To achieve its full growth it needs to consume huge amounts of meat, exotic substances, and other gold sinks (so, as it’s another class not dependent on gear, cash earned from adventuring goes into allowing it to level up).
I was considering another class based around the notion of trickster animals - foxes, raccoons, coyotes, ravens, rabbits, snakes, spiders - who in various mythologies learn the secrets of assuming human form. Japan, China, the America, and Europe all have tricker animals mythology. Class would be built a little like a thief, with possibly a touch of illusion-type magic, and the classic ability to return to animal form. Each animal type would have a modest special thematic ability. Raccoons would find more treasure, Foxes would be charming and have reaction mods, rabbits could borrow luck from their future self (reroll a die now at the expense of allowing the Judge to force a reroll later at his whim). That kind of thing.
Anyhow, topics for another thread.

I was reading the special combat maneuvering rules again, and I noticed something I’d missed when writing up these guys - it says a combatant with an attack routine can use any of those attacks to instead perform a maneuver.
How should I adjudicate this for the Nordanbjörn? Allow them to swap claw/claw/bite for sunder/disarm/force-back? With their categorical size bump at 5th, against human sized foes this would make maneuvering for effect rather than dishing out raw damage a winning strategy. It makes for fairly cool imagery - the enraged bear smashes an enemy’s shield with one claw, swats their sword away with the other, and then bodily smashes them off a cliff edge. Or, wrestling a foe and holding them helpless with one claw, and then mauling them horrible with the other. It’s very thematic, but is it just too damned powerful?

Not if playing up their size in dungeons. In a 10’ corridor another character might not be able to fight alongside them so their wrestle+damage should be compared to two 5th level character first wrestling and then whacking an enemy.
Also, with 3 or 2 characters in front there might be spearmen behind to deal extra damage but it’s not possible to stab through a bear.
Outdoors the bear would be very dangerous but that is appropriate imo.

I’m checking out the most recent PC revision, particularly the Thrassian Gladiator. I think I may have under-speced the Nordanbjörn.

Under-speced in what way?

The bears get their stuff metered out through their level progression, and I tried to build in some drawbacks to partial compensate for their advantages. But the lizard guys in the PC start with most of the bear’s advantages and none of the compensations. If those guys are an example of correct monstrous class building, then I was too cautious with my estimations for the Nordanbjörn.

It’s always possible I got the Thrassian balance wrong! They were created for a backer so they haven’t had playtesting yet.