Of Chitin and Creativity, Part II
The Cha’k Part 2: Electric Boogaloo
My gods, I’m really dating myself with that lame "reference" to 25 year old pop culture.
Anyway, back to the Cha’k. (Hey, that rhymes!)
When last we left our intrepid game designer, he… that is, me… er… I… had begun statting out the Cha’k, an insectile race for my current 4e gameworld of Cret. We were still working on racial abilities. And we have no idea why we’re talking in first-person plural. I think it’s a mix of the editorial "we" and my feeling that, writing this, I am engaging in a conversation with the readers, as if they were here (as if they existed), working through a problem. I am also very inconsistent with regards to this, alternating between "I" and "we" with abandon. Consistency is, however, the hobgoblin battlemage of little minds.
That should be sufficient pre-article rambling. Time to actually get to work, after the break!
Rounding Out Racial Traits
In order to prevent a lot of flipping back and forth, here’s a quick summary of the Cha’k so far:
Ability Scores: +2 Int, +2 Dex
Speed: 7 squares
Languages: Common, Hive
Skill Bonuses: Arcana +2, Nature +2
Scent Trail: Cha’k can communicate complex messages by scent. Cha’k within 5 squares of each other can "talk" silently by means of scent, at about one-fourth the normal rate of conversation. A Cha’k can also leave a "scent message" of up to 30 words, which will endure for up to eight hours unless washed away. Leaving the message take 5 minutes.
We need more racial traits.
One thing I considered, but then rejected, is some kind of limit on armor/weapons, due to their alien body shape. It makes heaping buttloads of sense that they ought to have problems using equipment meant for other races, as they are only vaguely humanoid, but this again runs into the 4e paradigm of "no negative aspects". (Unless you count small size creatures’ poor weapon choices, which is only problematic because almost all the benefits of being Small have been removed, compared to 3e. It is further odd that you are no easier to grapple or bull rush than a medium creature of the same attributes, nor can you carry any less weight… but you can’t use a greatsword. It almost seems like a relic rule, something never quite removed from the system, perhaps left in because otherwise there’s no mechanical difference between Medium and Small creatures. I dunno.)
Getting semi-back on topic, the problem with "limited equipment", besides it flying against the 4e design rules, is that in Actual Play it is often ignored or nullified. The DM will always make sure, at least after level 1 or 2, that "appropriate" gear is found. Either that, or the player stops playing the race because it can’t use any of the weapons and armor which turn up in the dungeon. So you either have an unrealistic and unlikely rate of "Insect style" equipment drops, or you have frustrated players. Solutions like cheap rituals to reshape gear stand out as obvious kludges, and a player may well ask why he is being "taxed" for every magic item he wants to use. From both game design and balance, it is far better to make a couple of cool exotic weapons or special armors which only the Cha’k can use, instead of limiting their ability to use other race’s stuff. It can be assumed that ill-fitting armor can be worn "well enough" during an adventure and then "modified" during a period of downtime.
So much for a trait the Cha’k don’t get. What do they get?
What does one think of, when one thinks of insects? Durability. Insects are strong and tough. Cockroaches can survive a nuclear war by hiding inside Twinkies. Ants can carry a dozen times their body weight, or something. So there ought to be some trait, or traits, which reflect this. There are a lot of possibilities: save bonuses, additional healing surges, increased surge values, defense bonuses. However, I’m going to focus on two aspects — resistance to the elements and general toughness.
Diehard: Instead of making a death saving throw, you may spend a healing surge. You are no longer dying and have 1 hit point. You may also spend another surge as an immediate reaction.
This ability differs from other racial ‘death save’ abilities. Cha’k aren’t constructs like Warforged, nor connected to the Shadowfell or any other type of death-related power. They’re just really tough. This ability also gives the player of a dying Cha’k an interesting choice to make — roll death saves as normal, hoping for a 20 or a Heal check from an ally, and get the full benefit of a healing surge, or spend surges willy-nilly to be back on one’s feet with certainty. (Personally, I’d roll the dice normally unless I had two surges to blow, because the distance between ‘alive with one hit point’ and ‘dying again’ is really short.)
As an alternative, this trait could allow the Cha’k to spend a healing surge and regain half the normal hit points, with no option to spend a second surge immediately. As a third alternative, a DM could allow a Cha’k to choose — is it better to blow two surges to be at 1/4 of your hit points, or one surge to be at 1/8th? (Or, hell, one surge to be at one hit point, which could be viable if, for example, a leader type is next in the initiative order and can trigger additional healing.) That last point brings up a problem with the "Pick how you want this to work when you use it" approach, namely, there’s an assortment of circumstances where different choices are optimal. "This is how the power works, suck it down." means sometimes you have to take the non-optimal choice. "Pick how the power works" lets you always choose the best response for your situation, which can make it overpowering. The "official" version above is how I’d recommend running it. The variant is also probably balanced. Being able to switch between them at will is most likely Too Good.
Lastly, we have this trait:
Cha’k Tenacity: The Cha’k are capable of enduring a great deal of environmental stress. They receive a +1 on saving throws against any ongoing damage, and a +2 on Endurance checks to resist the effects of the environment, starvation, drowning, and thirst.
The save bonus is small, but very broad — compare to the Dwarf’s +5 on poison or the Halfling’s +5 on fear. The environmental benefits are larger, but hostile environment checks really don’t come into play very much, in my experience.
Now comes what I consider to be the most interesting part of the Cha’k, the result of me considering and then rejecting a lot of ideas. The Cha’k are hive insects, and we’ve already "deduced" (by reading our own writing!), that they have a caste system. Creating a whole bunch of sub-races is Right Out — too much work, and too much of a lure to min-maxers who will pick the sub-race which matches their chosen class. However, it is possible that instead of a Cool Racial Power, the Cha’k gain "Caste Specialization" — the choice of a Trait from a decent sized list, a bit like the Shifter class feature. This freedom of choice means each trait must be the tiniest bit less powerful than equivalent traits, but that small power hit is balanced by the fact the player will, logically, be choosing a trait which is going to be particularly useful. This is similar to the Human ability to pick one attribute to gain a bonus in, as opposed to possibly saddling a character with a bonus in a "less useful" attribute.
So, we have this:
Caste Specialization: The Cha’k chooses one trait from the list of Caste Traits.
A Cha’k picks one of the following traits. This trait cannot normally be altered.
Guardian Caste: You gain a +1 bonus to AC, and your Speed becomes 6.
Leader Caste: You gain the Group Mind power.
Group Mind Racial Power
You know how to get everyone to work together on a common goal.
Choose a skill in which you are trained. All allies within 10 squares of you gain a +1 bonus to their next check using that skill. If your total bonus with that skill is higher than any affected ally’s bonus, this bonus increases to +2.
Tunneler Caste: Dungeoneering becomes a class skill for you; if it is already a class skill, you gain a +2 bonus. In addition, you gain the Digger power:
Digger Racial Power
You can move through earth like others move through air.
You gain a Burrowing speed of 5 until the end of your next turn. You may choose to use this power with Tunneling if you desire. You may move only through relatively soft soil and earth, not solid stone.
This isn’t the whole list, but my hour here is up! Tune in tomorrow for more Caste Traits, and probably some racial feats.
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