Sidebar: Playtesting (Part II)

In a previous post, I mentioned that I am running a game that uses many of the house rules that I’ve posted here in my blog. In that post, I mentioned many of the problems we discovered with the skill set I had created and some of the tweaks we made to rectify those problems. I also mentioned some of the problems that I had trying to run skill encounters. Since then, we haven’t had any significant problems with the skills as written and my ability to run skill encounters has vastly improved, with my players sometimes not even realizing that I’m running skill encounters at all.

Alas, the same cannot be said of the shadow-tattoo artist class. My player decided to take the animal totem tattoo, which would allow him to summon any monster from the summon monster spell lists at will. My initial thought on this was that even though this might seem a little overpowered, the fact that the creatures summoned with this tattoo have half as many hit points as a normal summoned creature and only do half as much damage if their opponents make a Will would balance things out. While I’m not entirely convinced that this isn’t the case, I have decided to make animal totem a lesser tattoo.

Here’s why: Imagine that Karra, the 6th level shadow-tattoo artist, chooses to spend every round summoning creatures instead of attacking. Assuming that she only summons one creature each round, using the summon monster III spell, she could potentially have 6 creatures in play by the sixth round.

Now imagine that I, as the DM, have three opponents in play; each of which has to make Will saves to determine if they can see the shadow creatures as illusory. Multiply that by 6 creatures and that’s 18 Will saves that I have to make. Keeping track of all that requires a lot of bookkeeping and making animal totem a lesser tattoo is an easy way to limit the number of summoned creatures that can be on the board at any given time.

Another reason that I decided to make animal totem a lesser tattoo is because even though the summoned creatures might be weaker, there’s no way to get rid of the damn things. Kill one and another pops up in its place. Because of this, I just tended to ignore the things in combat unless one of them stood between a PC and one of my opponents.

That leads to abuse. Thinking about it, I could see how a creative player might choose to summon an army of shadow creatures before going into combat, sending the creatures in first to act as a wall between the PCs and their opponents. Sure, the summoned creatures might deal only half as much damage if their opponents make their Will saves. However, melee fighters would have a very difficult time getting anywhere close enough to deal damage, while ranged fighters and spellcasters would have a heck of a time making any sort of attack, because of the attacks of opportunity they would provoke from the summoned creatures.

Okay, now I’m convinced that a least version of this tattoo is wholly broken and I think it makes much more sense to change it to a lesser tattoo.

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