Eclipse and the Pathfinder Assassin

And it’s time for another attempt to get started posting again. Being in the medical field in the midst of a pandemic has pretty much eliminated my writing time since last year – but it’s loosening up a bit now. To get back into the swing of things, questions are welcome; they give me a place to start. And for today we have Alzrius, asking about a breakdown for the Pathfinder Assassin Prestige Class.

We can probably assume the use of the Pathfinder Package Deal, but it doesn’t have any actual effect. The class basics are fully compatible with the vast majority of d20 settings anyway.

For the basics of this ten-level class we have…

  • d8 Hit Dice (40 CP), 4 Skill Points per Level (40 CP), a Base Attack Bonus of +7 (42 CP), total Saves of +11 (33 CP), and Augment Attack (Sneak Attack option, +5d6, 15 CP).
  • Assassins are also Proficient with Light Armor (3 CP) and a Limited Group of Weapons (3 CP).

That’s 176 CP out of the 240 CP available to a ten-level prestige class. In actual play they probably wouldn’t need to pay for the proficiencies since any would-be assassin really should have most of them already.

The items in the Pathfinder Assassin that improve the Death Attack trick include True Death (a sort of curse on those slain by the user’s Death Attack that makes them slightly more difficult to raise from the dead), Quiet Death (allowing the user to conceal the fact that he or she has used a Death Attack to kill a target during a surprise round), Swift Death (allowing the user to use Death Attack once per day without the normally-required study time), and Angel Of Death (Once per day can destroy a body, preventing the use of Raise Dead or Resurrection – albeit not the use of Wish or True Resurrection.

OK then:

  • True Death simply annoys PC’s and really doesn’t affect NPC’s since they rely more on plot effects than wealth.
  • Quiet Death… is pretty specialized. It’s neat when it comes up, but it’s not going to come up all that often.
  • Swift Death lets the character make a quick save-or-die strike once per day. That’s really not that impressive; spellcasters can usually do this more often and better.
  • Angel Of Death saves the bother of destroying a body some other way – perhaps by dropping a capsule of green slime on it. Handy, but but it’s not as if people in the real world, with no magic at all and a lot less motivation, haven’t disposed of quite a lot of bodies. Disposing of a body is not actually all that hard.

So to buy those items, take…

  • Trick (Death Attack, normally requires three rounds of study and use shortly after the study period) Specialized and Corrupted for increased Effect (offers a choice of Death or Short-Term Paralysis, Only requires two rounds of study) / Requires a successful sneak attack, fails if the target is aware of the user or recognizes the user as an enemy*, must be used within three rounds (6 CP).

*OK, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. If I know that a particular assassin is after me, I’m immune to his or he death attack? After all, I know that he or she is an enemy even if I don’t know that they’re nearby – and therefore am protected? I recommend dropping the “or recognizes the user as an enemy” since any reasonable interpretation of that already falls under “if the target is aware of the user”.

Given that it’s not really that hard to get rid of a body lets go straight to a drastically upgraded version of Angel Of Death. Buy…

  • Presence / Aura of Corruption (An improved, level one, version of Putrefy Food And Drink), Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Only affects corpses, only of creatures that the user has slain with Death Attack (2 CP). There. That will cause the bodies of those you slay to be consumed by insects, fungi, and various microorganisms in a few moments – with the resulting compost being of no more use for bringing back the victim than a chunk of flesh from a wolf is useful for bringing back the deer it ate last week. Once a body has been consumed by other organisms and digested… it’s now a part of them and the relationship with the original creature is broken.

Even better… That works all day, every day, as often as you like. It will take a Wish or True Resurrection (or perhaps Returning) to bring back ANYTHING you kill.

If you want to do something else with your 2 CP… invest in an Injecting Weapon or look in The Complete Scoundrel, or any of dozens of other equipment books and go with the Green Slime again. Or any of several other oozes. There are quite a few of them which will eat a body, bones and all.

We’ve already got the Death Attack down to two rounds of study, and we want to eliminate the study at least once per day.

  • Buy Reflex Training (four actions per day variant), Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (accomplishes two rounds of study as a free action) / only for use with studying targets to allow the use of a Death Attack (6 CP). That’s four times a day, which is at least competitive with the local druid when it comes to save-or-die effects.

Quiet Death? For that you want

  • Traceless (Murder), Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Only keeps it from being noticeable when you kill someone with your Death Attack for a brief period (2 CP).

Again, that’s an improvement on the original ability which had much more limited applications since it only worked during a surprise round.

OK, that pretty much covers the Pathfinder Assassins signature techniques with some upgrades for… 16 CP. That’s actually pretty cheap.

So what else does the Pathfinder Assassin get?

  • Poison Use (6 CP). This might be overpriced, but that’s back-compatibility again. Still, it lets you both make and safely use poisons.
  • +5 on Saves Versus Poison. This could be bought with Resistance, or Augmented Bonus, either of which might be better in the long run – but I’m going to match the edge and buy Luck just to get a second chance against poisons (6 CP) – basically, letting the user roll twice and keep the best result when saving against poisons. An actual character might well be better served with Luck with +4 Bonus Uses, Specialized / only for Saves – but that has the same cost and so could be easily swapped in.
  • Improved Uncanny Dodge. That’s Awareness (6 CP) with Flankless (Specialized, does not work against opponents with a four-level advantage over you, 3 CP).
  • Hidden Weapons: You could duplicate this by buying Professional (Sleight Of Hand), Specialized for Increased Effect (+1 per level) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / Only to use Sleight Of Hand to Conceal Weapons (4 CP) – but personally I would buy either Innate Enchantment / Handy Haversack (+2 CP worth of Innate Enchantment) or take Shaping in the Use of Charms and Talismans variant – thus getting the use of ten minor bits of magic – such as a making a weapon invisible when not in use, concealed pockets, a few moments of invisiblity, instant makeover capsules, and so on.
  • Hide In Plain Sight could be an immunity, or smoke pellets, or some other trick – but the simplest way to get it is to take Opportunist (gets to roll to hide even when under observation and without cover, 6 CP).

That’s about 47 CP in total (possibly varying a bit of you take some of the Eclipse-style options instead of the attempts at duplication), giving the Pathfinder Assassin a net cost of 223 CP out of the 240 CP available – although it’s not a particularly efficient build, which kind of explains why the Pathfinder Assassin generally isn’t considered worth taking except – sometimes – as a dip. This being Eclipse, of course, you could start as an Assassin instead of taking it as a prestige class and have a lot of the special tricks within the first few levels. Throw in Duties (likely to whoever trained you), Adept or Fast Learner to cut down on the SP Cost (6 CP each, either worth 20 CP worth of skills (and continuing to offer benefits later) for a net savings of 14 CP – or take both to upgrade at a reduced cost) and cut the Hit Dice to d4’s in favor of Agile Combat [Advanced Augmented Bonus (Add (Dex Mod) to (Con Mod) for HP Purposes through level 10, 12 CP)] to save 28 CP and you’ll have 79 CP available – enough for, say:

  • The full original Assassin Spellcasting Package (56 CP). This isn’t especially impressive, but does include some handy tricks and is rather tightly focused on stuff assassins are likely to need.
  • The 32 CP Pirate Template and a bunch of other stuff – perhaps some of the C’hi Power packages from this article on Ninja or some nice Martial Stances or even something like a Birthright.
  • The Bokor (“Binder”) Package (60 CP). This one will continue to pay dividends throughout your entire career and is very nice when you want to put together a package of powers that’s just right for taking out a particular target.
  • The Entreaty Magic package (87 CP, so you’ll need to throw in a couple of your feats – but well worth it if you have a decent Charisma score) is another one that will continue to pay off throughout your entire career.
  • Perhaps a good chunk of Witchcraft. That’s not overwhelmingly powerful, but it is very sneaky and versatile.
  • Perhaps a Martial Discipline at (48 CP)? Or you could invest three Feats to either buy a second one or to triple your uses-per-fight on your first set of maneuvers.
  • Or go with the Skill-Based Partial Casters (Type I or Type II) (Variable Cost).
  • How about the Pulp Hero templates? At 32 (Basic) or 64 (Advanced) CP that would certainly be different!

Any of those options will make our revamped Eclipse Assassin considerably more effective – as it should be. The Assassin is a strong and popular archetype. It shouldn’t be crippling to want to play one.

Practical Enchantment – Bardic Instruments and Knacks

Backwards and forwards swayed their song.
Reeling and foundering, as ever more strong
The chanting swelled, (Finrod) fought,
And all the magic and might he brought,
Of Elvenesse into his words.
Softly in the gloom they heard the birds
Singing afar in Nargothrond,
The sighing of the sea beyond…

…The wolf howls. The ravens flee.
The ice mutters in the mouths of the sea.
The captives sad in Angband mourn,
Thunder rumbles, the fires burn-
And Finrod fell before the throne.

-Tolkien,

While high-end musical magic is a thing of art that – at least ideally – should swing back and forth like a cinematic battle of master martial artists, in d20 that’s basically spellcasting, high magic, and personal power. Magical instruments, however, are things of myth and legend, subtle devices that can influence the world and enhance the user’s musical talents in a thousand ways.

Which is why it’s so disappointing that d20’s musical instruments mostly aren’t very interesting. In fact, bardic optimization handbooks often don’t even mention them. There are quite a few – but most of them seem to be masterwork instruments that cast three spells once per day each. Their prices are mostly reasonable, and that’s not at all bad – but even one of the best examples – the Canaith Mandolin (Masterwork Instrument, 8100 GP, requires 8 Ranks in Perform, casts Cure Serious Wounds, Dispel Magic, and Summon Monster III once per day each at caster level eight) is a bit lackluster. Yes, those are all generally useful spells at a decent caster level and the price is good – but there’s not much subtlety, or room for creativity, or room for making your magical instrument a major part of your life.

So lets do something a little different. Lets take some fairly versatile, but cheap-and-basic, effects and make them unlimited use instead. Perhaps the most obvious place to start is with…

Arcane Melody: Greater Invocation: Melody Of Orpheus (L1. Produces any of the following music-focused cantrip-level effects (or others as the game master approves). These generally have a duration of “as long as you keep playing” and, thanks to them being use-activated, the musician can activate one effect per round while playing up to a maximum of (Charisma Modifier +1, 1 Minimum) simultaneous effects. That’s Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .9 (Requires Perform / Strings) at +6 or better = 1800 GP. Some of the possible effects include:

● A Private Moment: You can direct the sound of your music to an individual within 60 feet so that it is just for them.
● Background Music: Recurring snatches of theme music – associated with particular people and situations – will play on their own. This is sometimes a warning and sometimes just awkward.
● Calming Music: Those listening gain a +1 bonus on saves against emotion-manipulating effects.
● Carried On The Wind: You can let your music “originate” from any location within 30 feet.
● Choreography: Willing creatures who hear your music can sing or dance along as if they had practiced if they choose to participate. Yes, this lets you do musical-style spontaneous music-and-dance numbers with people you’ve just met if they’re willing to do so.
● Coincidental Chorus: Your music smoothly blends in with ambient sounds – birdsong, a smith working, and so on.
● Convey Meaning: You may use a social skill through your music. The skill works normally, you just use music instead of words.
● Crescendo: Your music is louder and easier to hear, as if you were using an amplifier.
● Discordant Notes: Your music is as annoying as a screeching blackboard. The GM might even impose a small distraction penalty or let you really annoy creatures with sensitive ears.
● Deep Harmony: You may use the Heal skill through your music. While this lets you attend a group simultaneously, the total time needed to complete the job remains unchanged.
● Empathic Melody: Those who listen to your music will recognize how you feel about the topic of your song.
● Harmonic Whisper: You may embed the equivalent of a Message cantrip within your music, but the effect is only one way – from you to the recipients. You don’t need to point to them though.
● Haunting Melody: The music will persist for 3d6 rounds after the playing stops, although any occult effects stop after one round.
● Impressions: You can convey the emotions and vague versions of the visual imagery associated with a song or tale, as if calling up memories of having witnessed it, giving your audience a fair impression of what it was like to have been there.
● Lullaby: You make a target feel drowsy, taking a –4 on Perception checks and a –2 on saves against sleep if they fail a will save – without the save being particularly noticeable. If they fail several (GMO) in a row they are likely to fall asleep. If you keep this up for an hour or so you may be able to put a quite lot of people to sleep (especially if they were just having a feast or are otherwise well-fed and tired).
● Musical Meditation: Those who fall asleep listening to your music need two hours less sleep (minimum two hours) to be fully rested.
● Orchestral Accompaniment: Gain a +3 Competence Bonus on your performance. (This also covers various effects – harmonies, descants, echoes, synthesizer noises, etc. Not that that matters).
● Power Chord: If using a bardic music effect that normally affects multiple targets you may affect one additional target.
● Soothe The Savage Beast: Animals will often stop and listen to your music. This isn’t forced, they just find it pleasant.
● Subliminal Whisper: You can cause a thought to occur to those listening, either causing an idea to occur to them or providing a +1 bonus to other persuasive efforts. No compulsion is involved.
● Threnodic Melody: You may cause those who listen to remember random bits of their pasts. such as “a time when they were happy”. They may feel nostalgic for a bit. This effect may also be used to produce pleasant dreams.

Now none of those effects are particularly game-breaking, In fact, several of them only affect role-playing aspects of the game (unless, perhaps, a bit of musical theater has somehow become vital to the plot) – but they can be fun and, since they’re unlimited-use, you aren’t wasting precious resources by using them. Go ahead, send a private performance to that cute potential romantic interest, try to soothe the angry shouting in the kings court, turn up the volume to drown out those annoying hecklers or cover up the sounds of your friends trying to search a room. There simply isn’t any reason not to have your music be a normal part of life rather than a combat boost.

For our next obvious possibility, lets look at…

The Visual Arts: Silent Image (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x.5 Only to produce the list of effects given below (no general illusion-casting) x .8 (Requires Perform / Strings at +8 or Better) = 800 GP. Use up to three at a time.

● Costume: The user may opt to look like they are wearing their preferred stage costume whenever they are playing.
● Creepy Shadows: The user may fill the stage with ominous shadows, making anything else around him or her slightly hard to see. If they are focused on a single target, that target gains one-half Concealment.
● Dread Reflection: You may cause a reflection to portray a target as if they were aged, deformed, horribly diseased, or even undead when they see it. This can be quite startling.
● Envisionment: Your music generates glowing strings or fancy light patterns as you play. This can make it hard to see that you are spellcasting, inflicting a -5 penalty on the relevant Spellcraft checks. Furthermore, if you cast Hypnotic Pattern or a related spell while playing, the save DC for that spell increases by +1.
● Firework Display: You may enhance your performance with an assortment of small-scale smoke-puffs and minor “fireworks”. This usually attracts a larger audience and makes you more likely to be invited to give special performances. .
● Makeup Effects: When the user is playing, he or she can seem to have glowing eyes, little demon horns, a glittering halo, black starry voids for eyes, or whatever. This can make a stage persona especially recognizable.
● Ornament: You may give a target within 30 feet a bit of dramatic lightning, making them obviously important and giving them a +1 bonus on social skill checks (if a -5 penalty on being stealthy).
● Personal Spotlight: The user may have minor personal lighting effects whenever he or she is playing – usually a spotlight, a bit of hazy backdrop, and so on.
● Radiant Glade: The immediate area appears sunlit and pleasant. This can be reversed if you would prefer to give observers a gloomy and ominous (or haunted-house) impression instead.
● Rule Of Cool: When the user casts a spell while grasping the instrument, he or she is free to give it dramatic visual special effects, although the actual game effect remains unchanged. If you want your Cone Of Cold to look like a sudden attack by a swarm of horrible ice-spirits… well, this is the function you want.
● Street Performer: Your act includes various visual flourishes – cute animals looking appealingly at the lack of money in your bowl, card tricks, birds flying around you, and so on. Add +2 to your performance total when busking for money. If you combine this with Impressions you can produce the general effect of having shown your audience a movie or television special on your topic. If this function is combined with the music for a play or similar production, the backdrops and props will look quite good.
● Statuesque: You may make yourself appear to be made of some material other than flesh. People may reach quite oddly if you pass yourself off as a suddenly-animate statue or musical automaton or some such.

The Visual Arts are the obvious next step for a magical instrument – allowing the user to give reality to the adage that “All the worlds a stage” with relative ease. Once again, there isn’t a lot of raw power here and a lot of the effects are pure role-playing props – but it gives you license to throw minor descriptive elements into the setting to suit yourself. When it comes to having fun that can be quite priceless.

For our third major function we have…

The Anvil Chorus: Unseen Servant (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .5 (Unseen Servants only act while you play music, you only get enough to act as a crew of a dozen people at any one time) x .7 (Requires Perform / Strings at +10 or Better) = +700 GP. In general, only one function of the Anvil Chorus may be used at a time.

● Animate Implements: Your music may act as a crew of servants – washing dishes, doing laundry, cooking meals, setting up camp, and so on as if (Performance check) basically unskilled people were working on the project.
● Breezy Notes: You may direct small breezes, as if several people were waving fans.
● Construction: Your music can dig trenches, cut wood, assemble a cottage, clear rubble, and perform other basic projects and repairs as if many laborers were working on them. Sadly, duplicating the construction effect of a Lyre Of Building would require a performance check of 1600+. Settle for small projects.
● Capstan Shanty: You can provide the equivalent of (Check / 4) horsepower to drive an engine, mill, or similar mechanism while your music continues.
● Farmers Boon: Your music can plow fields, harvest crops, shovel coal, carry burdens, and otherwise perform the work of (Check / 2) field hands and (Check / 8) relevant draft animals.
● Industrious Song: You can help a craftsman work on a project, tripling the amount of work he or she could normally perform.
● Opening Chord: Unlocked doors, windows, trunks and similar closures may be thrown open, curtains pulled back, and covers pulled away in the area. This may be reversed, to close up a place, put out lights, and seal an area.
● Phantom Crew: Your music can act as a crew for the purposes of rowing, manning a ship, carrying palanquins, or accomplishing similar tasks. .
● Poltergeist Chorus: You may cause quantities of relatively light objects to fly about and get into peoples way, possibly even breaking line-of-sight through a square if you have stuff cluster together.
● Rescue: Fallen friends may be carried from battle, crude pressure applied to staunch the flow of blood (+5 circumstance bonus on Stabilization checks), sailors who have fallen overboard be pulled from the sea, and so on as if some unskilled people were helping.
● Squires Chord: Your music can get (Cha Mod) targets into their armor and equipped in a single round. The Maid’s Chord can do the same for getting people into fancy dress or their makeup on.
● Wings of Song: You cushion falls, reducing the damage to up to (Cha Mod +1, 1 Minimum) targets per round by your performance check, 0 Minimum. Unfortunately, unless you have an action readied to catch those trapeze artists, or the children leaping from windows to escape a fire, or some such, this will probably only be useful if a group is intentionally jumping down.

Now the Anvil Chorus starts to offer a bit of actual power in that most of it’s options actually accomplish tangible things – but few of them are things that adventurers find important. When was the last time that your characters did their laundry or spent the day harvesting apples? Even if you’re short of crew to run a ship or something… you’ll find some way to do it or the game will grind to a halt anyway. On the other hand, causing unseen powers to do the dishes or pack your bags is an excellent way to imply that you have enough magic to not mind “wasting it” on trivial matters.

Finally, for our fourth power, we have the…

Travelers Song: Mount (Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .5 (“Mounts” are sonic phantoms, and exist only as long as the user continues to play, maximum number manifested at once = users performance check / 2) x.7 (Requires Perform Bonus of +12 or better) = 700 GP

● Drover’s Canticle: Your music may move carriages, barges, wagons, sledges, and similar large objects as if many horses were pulling them. Alternatively, you may keep such an vehicle from moving with a similar force.
● Melancholic Descant: You may increase the load of a vehicle or area as if a horse was sitting on it. If someone is unable to resist or unconscious or some such you may also do this to people.
● Hammermill Chorus: Your music may supply up to (Performance Check / 2) horsepower to run mills, industrial machinery, pumps, and similar devices as long as they could reasonably be powered by draft animals.
● Huntsman’s Hymn: You may send the sound of hoofbeats rushing off, simulating either a group or a single horse, and even leaving a trail of hoofprints behind – although the trail will vanish after a few hundred feet.
● Traveling Montage: The users party is treated as being mounted (on tireless horses) even if they are not, and so may travel more quickly and with less fatigue.
● Sonic Barricade: If you have a held action ready you may block an incoming spell or effect with the equivalent on an (invisible) light horse. While 20 points of damage will make the barrier disappear, it will otherwise last while you play. If you like, while playing, you may maintain multiple such barriers, blocking doors, passages, and people trying to charge you. (Yes, this is silly. Ask the GM if it’s allowable first).
● Sonic Wave: You may send a sonic wave equivalent to the passage of a light horse up to 60 feet. (This usually triggers traps and also has a reasonable chance – equivalent to that of a light horse kicking – of opening a door).
● Wings Of Song: Given a standard action to prepare you may let your music carry willing targets, making a Jump Check for them at +15 that does not count against their movement.

OK, we’re stretching things a bit on the special effects – but that’s no problem if you’ve already got The Visual Arts anyway.

So let’s add this up for our “Etheric Instrument”:

  • Masterwork Musical Instrument: 100 GP.
  • Arcane Melody: +1800 GP. (Requires a +6 Bonus).
  • The Visual Arts: +800 GP. (Requires a +8 Bonus).
  • The Anvil Chorus: +700 GP. (Requires a +10 Bonus).
  • Traveler’s Song: +700 GP. (Requires a +12 Bonus).

That’s 4100 GP. Lets throw in a Wand Chamber (+100 GP) for a total of 4200 GP.

An individual GM may want to insist on a higher caster level (likely three) and up the price a bit (at CL 3 the base magical cost would be 12,000 GP, but there’s no actual benefit associated with the higher caster level, which would justify cutting it down a bit). After all, this list does include fifty-two different (if not particularly impressive) unlimited-use bardic tricks.

In particular, in Eclipse, you can take this Bardic Knack (sans wand chamber) at the base cost as six CP worth of Innate Enchantment and have at least 900 GP left over. Personally, I’d invest most of that in books – things like “Collected Popular Songs”. “Great Tales Of Adventure”. “Myths And Legends”, and so on. Being able to boast of a 900-1400 GP library in your head ought to be enough to let you know pretty much every myth, tale, and piece of music in most settings. That gives you your “bardic studies” and a considerable range of magical music for a mere 6 CP.

The skill requirements will be a little restrictive for a while, but are built around a total required bonus – so your attribute bonus and any permanent personal boosts you’re using will help you get there. Go ahead. Act like a mage who’s just acquired unlimited use of Prestidigitation; see how many ways you can use minor magics to accomplish your goals instead of casting major spells.