Monday, September 21, 2015

ACKS Class: Nightblade Redux

Nightblade Redux
Prime Requisites: Dex, Int
HD: d6
Max level: 12

Nightblade is a neat class in concept, but ultimately slow arcane casting progression on a thief base is a hard sell.  We had one in the first party of our first campaign, and then there was one nightblade henchwoman who survived a single adventure, but they get no love in this group.  Perhaps this could change that, and offer an a way forward for thieves in general.

Nightblades are elven spies, assassins, and covert operatives.  Their occupation entails some degree of combat training, though it is not their forte.  They advance in attack throws by two points per four levels of experience, like a thief.  They may use all ranged weapons and all one-handed melee weapons, and may fight with a weapon in each hand.  They cannot use armor heavier than leather, and cannot use shields.  Their saves and to-hit numbers are as an ACKS Core Nightblade of their level.

Elven Nightblades may move silently, hide in shadows, climb walls, and backstab as a thief of their level.  In addition, they may perform feats of acrobatics, as the proficiency of the same name.

While not true spellcasters, Nightblades master a number of supernatural tricks to enhance their stealth capabilities.  At first level, nightblades learn Chameleon, Silent Step, and Jump, as the spells of the same names.  They may use these powers a total of three times in any eight hour period, and each takes a round to activate.

ex: a nightblade wants to sneak up on a group of orcs, so he casts Silent Step.  A turn later, his party is in position to engage, and he casts Jump for maximum backstabbing.  In the next seven hours and 40 minutes, he can cast one more of Chameleon, Silent Step, or Jump.

At 3rd level, the Nightblade's ability to cloak himeself in shadow is perfected. He may cast Invisibility once per 8 hours, with a casting time of one round.

At 5th level, the Nightblade's mastery of shadow goes beyond merely concealing himself; concealment becomes part of his nature.  He may make his form insubstantial (as Gaseous Form), and adapt his eyes to the darkness (Infravision).  These powers are usable in any combination a total of twice per day, and take a single round to activate.

At 7th level, the Nightblade begins to understand the universality of the shadow, and this enables him to transcend distances as they are commonly thought of.  He may leap through shadow (as Dimension Door) once per week with a casting time of 1 round.

At 9th level, the Nightblade's occult studies of the void as the foundation of the structure of the cosmos have reached their inevitable conclusions, unlocking the most perilous secrets of his art.  Once per week, with a casting time of one turn, he may walk the dark road (as Teleport).

Also at 9th level, the Nightblade's endarkenment is recognized by all, and he may attract a cabal of 1d6 1st-3rd level Nightblades seeking to learn from him.  Cabals obey the standard rules for thieves' guilds and hijinks, though most are loathe to accept non-elven members, lest the esoteric wisdom of the nightblades be misused by the rash and younger races.

Nightblades also get the usual elf powers:
  • Attunement to Nature: +1 to surprise rolls in the wilderness
  • Elven Tongues: Elf, Gnoll, Hobgoblin, Orc
  • Keen Eyes: Nightblades can detect secret doors on an 8+ on d20 when actively searching, or at 14+ on casual inspection.
  • Connection to Nature: Nightblades are unaffected by ghoulish paralysis, and gain a +1 bonus to saves against Petrification/Paralysis and Spells.
  • +125XP to 2nd level.  +50kXP/level beyond 8th is unreasonable here; going with +10kXP/level beyond 8th (like dwarf fighters, where abilities don't synergize particularly well).

Class proficiencies (30): Alchemy, Alertness, Arcane Dabbling, Battle Magic (applies to spell-like abilities), Black Lore of Zahar (substitute -2 to enemy saves vs death with +2 bonus to proficiency throws to extract, refine, or use poisons), Blind Fighting, Cat Burglary, Combat Reflexes, Combat Trickery (incapacitate), Contortionism, Eavesdropping, Familiar, Fighting Style, Intimidation, Mystic Aura, Passing Without Trace, Precise Shooting, Prestidigitation, Quiet Magic (applies to spell-like abilities), Running, Sensing Power, Skirmishing, Skulking, Sniping, Swashbuckling, Unflappable Casting (applies to spell-like abilities), Trapfinding, Wakefulness, Weapon Focus, Weapon Finesse

XP Title Level HD Acrobatics Backstab
0 Elven Mole 1 1d6 20+ x2
1825 Elven Asset 2 2d6 19+ x2
3650 Elven Courier 3 3d6 18+ x2
7300 Elven Spy 4 4d6 17+ x2
14600 Elven Agent 5 5d6 16+ x3
29200 Elven Occultist 6 6d6 15+ x3
60000 Walker on the Dark Road 7 7d6 14+ x3
120000 Left Hand of Darkness 8 8d6 13+ x3
230000 Elven Nightblade 9 9d6 12+ x4
340000 Elven Nightblade, 10th 10 9d6+2 11+ x4
450000 Elven Nightblade, 11th 11 9d6+4 10+ x4
560000 Endarkened One 12 9d6+6 9+ x4

Design notes:
Playing a little fast and loose with classbuilding rules here.  We've seen arcane elves, we've seen divine elves, and now this is a thieving elf.  Basically it's a fighting 1 / HD 1 / Thief 3 / Elf 0 build that swaps most of its thief skills for magic powers.  The old nightblade started off as a passable wizard and a normal (ie, bad) thief at low levels, and then inverted at high levels into an OK thief and a bad wizard.  This one starts off as a strong wizard in terms of spells per day, but they're all thief enhancement, so at low levels he's a better thief, and that's OK, because low-level thieves are the worst.  At higher levels, he doesn't need the magic as much to supplement the raw thief numbers, and instead gains a few extra tricks - gaseous form and infravision are very good for scouting, dimension door is a good escape ability, and teleport "strategic utility".  I'm a little conflicted on teleport because once per week is not much compared to what a real wizard can do, and one turn casting time makes it useless as an "escape" ability.  I'm not convinced it's worse than passwall, though, which is sort of the other "thief / utility" option at 5th level.

Place in Midnight:
The "use the weapons of the enemy" branch of Elven Intelligence.  Vulnerable to corruption, mistrusted by their brethren and the enemy alike if their powers are known.  Also probably common among the dark elves (provided that the rumors of the existence of such elves are substantiated, of course).

Hmm...  maybe there are some other branches of Elven Intelligence that need "thieving elf" classes.  We have here the operational (get in, kill target, get out) arm; maybe we need HUMINT (er, ORCINT - charm, ESP, disguise, alter self; enchantment and transmogrification) and SIGINT (MAGINT - detect *, locate *, scrying, prophecy; detection and divination) arms.


  1. Hmm; this is an interesting idea. I made a "spellfilch" Thief/Mage custom class and it seems underwhelming - this is a good solution.

    However, do you think this variant would be too powerful at 1st level? They basically cast like a 2.5-lvl mage, plus get better HD and attacks.

    And the HD 1 / Fight 1 / Thf 3 is intentional? (If I do my own take, it'll be HD 0 instead.)

    1. They are strong at 1st level, but I would hesitate to compare their casting to that of a 2.5th level MU because they don't get either of the low-level MU's fight-enders: sleep, charm person, maybe summon berserkers. All of the spells this class gets at 1st are basically thief-skill-enhancement. I tend to look at those capabilities more as "making thief skills actually usable at 1st level," and this they could definitely coexist with a party mage without anyone's toes being stepped on.

      And yeah, the HD1 was intentional - d4 in melee is a recipe for dying quickly and frequently, especially with light armor. The class would probably be workable with d4 HD, but I do not think my players would consider it so.

    2. It's also worth noting that while they start strong, they don't scale particularly well; at high levels they're good, because thief skills are good, but the powers that served them well at low levels aren't really replaceable by new 'spells' that scale up (ie, some of our MU PCs tend to pick up Magic Missile around 6th when it gains the extra missile). At high levels, I don't think they're that different a mundane thief with a bag full of scrolls (more HP, less versatile).

  2. Thanks for the response. Based on your Nightblade Redux, I wrote up a revised Spellfilch class for my "Astonishing ACKS" campaign. The spell-like abilities are spread from 1st through 12th, and I haven't allowed for any flexible spell selection.

    Here's the link:

    1. Looks like the link got removed; here it is again:

    2. Nice! I like that a lot. My players have no love for d4 HP, so I doubt I could sell it to them, but your options available at each level of powers are well-chosen, and Prestidigitation and Dabbling at 1st are also very thematic.

    3. Thanks, John.

      I have two players with (surviving) d4 HP characters who have reached 3rd level. They haven't been hit with any nasty area of effect spells yet, and have chewed through several meatshields to stay alive.