Saturday, July 11, 2015

ACKS Class: Bearsarker

As I mentioned previously, it's theorized that berserkers in Norse society were holy warriors dedicated to animal cults.  Here's the first of three classes in that tradition, with a healthy dose of inspiration from Egil's Saga.  This is the least-divine and most fightery of the three.

I apologize in advance for any puns; I hope you find them bearable.

Prime Requisites: Str, Con
Requirements: None
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 14

Bearsarkers are the fearsome warrior-servants of the Great Bear, renowned across the land for their ferocity and stylish bear's-head hats.  They occupy a dual role in Skanadian society, viewed as both the epitome of masculine virtue and threats to the structural integrity of local drinking establishments and political order.  As a result they spend much of their time outside society; the arrival of a bearsarker in town is a noteworthy event which typically heralds violence.  Some powerful monarchs have been known to maintain a bodyguard of bearsarkers, though this is a messy and expensive proposition.

Bearsarkers are terrifying combatants, though trained in a limited range of weapons and armor.  At first level they hit AC0 on 10+ on a d20, and they advance in attack and saving throws by one point per level.  They also increase their melee damage by +1 at first level, and by an additional point at 3rd level and every three levels thereafter, and may cleave once per round per level of experience.

Bearsarkers have an intuitive grasp of hand-to-hand combat, and may use all melee weapons.  They may fight with a weapon and shield, or with a weapon in two hands.  As they are from societies where metal is precious and plate is unheard of, however, they are not trained in the use of armor heavier than chainmail.

Bearsarkers are servants of the Great Bear, and are often aided by their fellow servants.  They gain a +2 to reaction rolls with bears, soldier-bears, bearmen, owlbears, werebears, and other ursine creatures, and may converse fluently with all such creatures and hire them as henchmen.  If using Domains at War, they may serve as Creature Handler specialists, though only for bears.  If a bearsarker is reincarnated and rolls an Animal result, they may choose to return as a bear; if restored of life and limb and rolling a "body part of another creature" result, that body part is likely from a bear.  Bearsarkers take only half the usual penalty to reaction rolls for having bear arms and other bodyparts.

Bearsarkers spend much time roaming the wilds alone seeking communion with the Great Bear and guarding its shrines in uncivilized places, and so possess keen wilderness senses, granting them +1 to surprise rolls while in the wilderness.

Bearsarkers are notoriously hard to kill, and may roll twice on the mortal wounds table and choose the result.  They also reduce any required bed rest from their injuries by a number of days equal to their class level.

Bearsarker initiation rituals typically involve wrestling a bear, and almost always end with the initiate's head in the bear's mouth.  Only by the mercy of the Great Bear are the chosen spared, and the experience typically leaves them without fear of death, for they know the Bear watches over them.  Bearsarkers are immune to all fear, mundane and magical.  Bearsarker henchmen and (extremely rare) units comprised solely of bearsarkers gain +4 to morale in combat (though not to loyalty and similar rolls, as such men are headstrong and difficult to control).

At fifth level, the bearsarker masters his shape-strength.  Once per day, he may spend a round howling, beating his breast, or biting his shield in order to become enormously strong for 1 turn (10 minutes).  While in shape-strength, he attacks as an 8HD monster (3+ THAC0) or his own class and level (whichever is better) and inflicts double damage with his attacks.  He can also throw boulders, small trees, and other heavy objects at foes up to 200' away for 3d6 points of damage and gains a +16 bonus to force open doors and break objects.  Shape-strength does not stack with any other effects that alter a character's strength.  After a bout of shape-strength, the bearsarker is fatigued, taking a -1 penalty to attack and damage rolls until he has rested for 1 turn.  This stacks with fatigue from skipping rest-turns during exploration.

Also at fifth level, the bearsarker becomes a bearrifying presence on the battlefield.  Opponents who face him in melee, and units facing troops led by him in melee, take a -1 penalty to morale rolls.  This penalty does not stack if multiple bearsarkers are present.

At ninth level, the bearsarker may call upon the Great Bear to make him an unstoppable juggernaut, whom iron bites not.  Once per day, he may spend a round howling, beating his breast, or biting his shield in order to become impervious to normal weapons for 1 turn (10 minutes).  He may use this round to activate his shape-strength simultaneously if he so desires.  While so impervious, the bearsarker is immune to injury from non-magical, unsilvered weapons.  Creatures immune to nonmagical and unsilvered weapons may still injure him, as may creatures of 5 or more hit dice.  He is also not impervious to fire from siege weapons.  However, he may weather any number of hits from normal weapons wielded by weak creatures without injury.

Also at 9th level, the bearsarker may contruct a den-fortress in a remote location in the borderlands or wilderness, as an Explorer's Border Fort.  When he does so, up to 2d4+2 grizzly bears and 1d6 bearsarkers of 1st-3rd level will arrive to attend him.  Settlers also begin appearing as normal, though there might should be a population growth modifier for "abundant population of hungry bears."

Experience Title Level HD Damage Bonus
0 Cub-Initiate 1 1d6 +1
2600 Bear Wrestler 2 2d6 +1
5200 Bear Armiger 3 3d6 +2
10400 Bear Cavalier 4 4d6 +2
20800 Grizzly Veteran 5 5d6 +2
41600 Kodiak Champion 6 6d6 +3
85000 Polar Protector 7 7d6 +3
170000 He-Who-Mauls 8 8d6 +3
290000 Bearsarker 9 9d6 +4
410000 Bearsarker, 10th level 10 9d6+2 +4
530000 Bearsarker, 11th level 11 9d6+4 +4
650000 Bearsarker, 12th level 12 9d6+6 +5
770000 Bearsarker, 13th level 13 9d6+8 +5
990000 Ursine Overlord 14 9d6+10 +5

Level Petrif & Paralysis Poison & Death Blast & Breath Staves & Wands Spells To-Hit
1 15+ 14+ 16+ 16+ 17+ 10+
2 14+ 13+ 15+ 15+ 16+ 9+
3 13+ 12+ 14+ 14+ 15+ 8+
4 12+ 11+ 13+ 13+ 14+ 7+
5 11+ 10+ 12+ 12+ 13+ 6+
6 10+ 9+ 11+ 11+ 12+ 5+
7 9+ 8+ 10+ 10+ 11+ 4+
8 8+ 7+ 9+ 9+ 10+ 3+
9 7+ 6+ 8+ 8+ 9+ 2+
10 6+ 5+ 7+ 7+ 8+ 1+
11 5+ 4+ 6+ 6+ 7+ 0+
12 4+ 3+ 5+ 5+ 6+ -1+
13 3+ 2+ 4+ 4+ 5+ -2+
14 2+ 1+ 3+ 3+ 4+ -3+

Bearsarker Class Proficiencies: Alertness, Ambushing, Animal Husbandry, Berserkergang, Blind Fighting, Caving, Climbing, Combat Reflexes, Combat Trickery (Wrestling), Command, Divine Blessing, Divine Health, Dungeon Bashing, Endurance, Fighting Style, Healing, Illusion Resistance, Intimidation, Laying on Hands, Naturalism, Navigation, Passing Without Trace, Prophecy, Riding, Running, Skirmishing, Survival, Trapping.

Bearsarkers gain class proficiencies at 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 12th, and 14th level, due to their Fighting 3 / Monster save progression.

Mead-Drinker Template: This pre-generated template represents a drunkard bear cultist living on the outskirts of civilized society with his trusty polearm.  The template is ready for adventure.  In the unlikely event that your bearsarker's intelligence is 13 or higher despite all the alcohol and head trauma, you may pick one or more general proficiencies before play (Endurance and Gambling are also recommended)
Proficiencies: Fighting Style (Polearm), Intimidation
Equipment: Sparth-axe (polearm), sax (short sword), boot knife, rusty chain mail shirt, spangenhelm, battered wooden shield, wool tunic, leather belt, bearskin cloak, iron brooch, a dead man's boots, muddy backpack, bedroll, tent, tinder box, six torches, 50' of rope, a week's worth of smoked fish (iron rations), half a wineskin of mead, slight hangover, no coinage.

Design notes:
Fighting 3 / HD 1
Four tradeoffs: reduced weapon selection, reduced armor selection, dropped two-weapon fighting style, dropped ranged damage bonus.

Servant of the Bear God is about half a power; much less useful than Beast Friendship in preventing wilderness encounters unless bears are incredibly common in your game.  Likewise, sort of limited-use for acquiring henchmen.  At the end of the day the level range where bears are available and effective combatants is narrow; they make lousy mounts and warbeasts, and leveling up monstrous henchmen is a black hole that you can throw almost any amount of XP into for little gain.  This a thematic and fun ability, but probably doesn't bring much utility.
Keen Wilderness Senses is half a power, by the book.
Hard to Kill is just Savage Resilience by another name, one power.
Without Fear of Death is a power by the book.

One remaining power from tradeoffs is turned into a power at 5th and a power at 9th.

Shape-Strength is a modified Giant Strength as a spell-like ability.  Duration reduced to 1 turn, target self-only should bring the level down to about 3rd, for the one-use per day with 1-round casting time.  Shape-Strength is perhaps a bit over the top, but it provides a good "dragon-fight" source of damage.  It also addresses the issue with Berserkergang and Fighting Fury, which is that they're like ok mechanically but unimpressive and not really Norse Saga-grade berserkering.
Kveldulf had in his hand a battle-axe; but when he got on board, he bade his men go along the outer way by the gunwale and cut the tent from its forks, while he himself rushed aft to the stern-castle. And it is said that he then had a fit of shape-strength, as had also several of his comrades. They slew all that came in their way, the same did Skallagrim where he boarded the ship; nor did father and son stay hands till the ship was cleared. When Kveldulf came aft to the stern-castle, he brandished high his battle-axe, and smote Hallvard right through helm and head, so that the axe sank in even to the shaft; then he snatched it back towards him so forcibly that he whirled Hallvard aloft, and slung him overboard...  It is said of shape-strong men, or men with a fit of Berserk fury on them, that while the fit lasted they were so strong that nought could withstand them; but when it passed off, then they were weaker than their wont. Even so it was with Kveldulf. When the shape-strong fit went from him, then he felt exhaustion from the onset he had made, and became so utterly weak that he lay in bed.
And hey, a source for the rock-throwing!
Skallagrim then became so strong and he caught up Thord and dashed him down so violently that he was all bruised and at once got his bane. Then he seized Egil. Now there was a handmaid of Skallagrim's named Thorgerdr Brak, who had nursed Egil when a child; she was a big woman, strong as a man, and of magic cunning. Said Brak:
'Dost thou turn they shape-strength, Skallagrim, against thy son?'
Whereat Skallagrim let Egil loose, but clutched at her. She broke away and took to her heels with Skallagrim after her. So went they to the utmost point of Digra-ness. Then she leapt out from the rock into the water. Skallagrim hurled after her a great stone, which struck her between the shoulders, and neither ever came up again. The water there is now called Brakar-sound.
Bearrifying Presence is a replacement for the "+1 follower morale" that fighting classes usually get at 5th.  Bearsarkers aren't great leaders, but they're scary.  Arguably -1 enemy morale is applicable in more combats than +1 follower morale, since there are plenty of fights that don't involve followers, hence the "engaged in melee" caveat.

Whom Iron Bites Not is a modified Immunity to Normal Weapons effect as a spell-like ability.  Again, self-only and 1-turn duration bring the effect to about 3rd level, for one use per day with a 1-round casting time.  This is somewhat weaker than King Harald's Berserks in Egil's Saga, but close enough.  
King Harold proclaimed a general levy, and gathered a fleet, summoning his forces far and wide through the land. He went out from Throndheim, and bent his course southwards, for he had heard that a large host was gathered throughout Agdir, Rogaland, and Hordaland, assembled from far, both from the inland parts above, and from the east out of Vik, and many great men were there met who purposed to defend their land from the king. Harold held on his way from the north, with a large force, having his guards on board. In the forecastle of the king's ship were Thorolf Kveldulfsson, Bard the White, Kari of Berdla's sons, Aulvir Hnuf and Eyvind Lambi, and in the prow were twelve Berserks of the king.
The fleets met south in Rogaland in Hafr's Firth. There was fought the greatest battle that king Harold had had, with much slaughter in either host. The king set his own ship in the van, and there the battle was most stubborn, but the end was that king Harold won the victory. Thorir Longchin, king of Agdir, fell there, but Kjotvi the wealthy fled with all his men that could stand, save some that surrendered after the battle. When the roll of Harold's army was called, many were they that had fallen, and many were sore wounded. Thorolf was badly wounded, Bard even worse; nor was there a man unwounded in the king's ship before the mast, except those whom iron bit not, to wit the Berserks.
I see this being useful primarily in mass combat, where I expect it should let a bearsarker wade through massed troops while laughing maniacally, especially when combined with a d10 weapon, shape-strength, and the penalty to enemy morale.  Being a bona fide badass, even for only 10 minutes of game-time, is occasionally fun for PCs.  This is also a fun ability for NPCs to deploy, because the bearsarker lord who is personally collapsing the left flank is something the PCs are going to have to deal with themselves (while balancing that threat against the necessities of leading their troops effectively).

Is this class even sort of balanced?  ehhhh.  The crazy abilities are within reach of a fighter with a wizard henchman, and fewer times per day than that combo.  Does it look fun to play?  Probably.


  1. Oh yes it looks fun to play. I'd remove the "a" from bear and just use this as a general berserker, even - the spell-like-abilities are much more flavorful/fun then ye-olde Berserker proficiency.

    Bearrifying Presence does feel a touch overpowered (unless the game being played is very heavy in D@W, so a Bearserker without a CHA bonus is a liability as an officer) but I think in combination with the more limited use of the spell-like-abilities it balances out as a whole package.

    My only modification would be to make the name of level 1:


    1. Or "Wet Behind the Bears", or "Inexbearienced"! Or "Lunch".

      Yeah, I'm still a little concerned about Bearrifying Presence. OTOH, I know that when I DM, I forget to roll monster morale a looot. Then again, I shouldn't assume that happens to other people.