Friday, March 29, 2013

The Herding of Thralls

This post is kind of a continuation of The Shipping of Leaders post. I split the topic into two posts, as I felt like it was going to get pretty lengthy if I heaped them both together. My issues with Leadership and Thrallherd are also different, so splitting it into two separate posts kind of makes sense. As I said, I do like the concept behind the Thrallherd, but I do have some issues with it.

My initial interpretation of the Thrallherd was that it is a telepath that generates a sort of wide burst psionic pulse that goes out and finds weak-willed individuals, rapes their minds and wills, and makes them the slaves of the Thrallherd. Since they are enslaved, the Thrallherd is under no obligation whatsoever to feed, clothe, or pay them. If they starve, more will just be drawn in by the psionic pulse. This initial interpretation was apparently wrong. There is still a certain amount of enslaving of will, but the pulse just goes out into the world and finds weak-willed individuals that are basically searching for someone to guide them or to be devoted to and the pulse draws them to the Thrallherd and turns them into fanatical followers of the Thrallherd and not mindraped slaves. The Thrallherd is still under no obligation to feed, clothe, or pay thralls and believers.

My initial thought, and one I did implement, is that Thrallherds cannot draw in divine characters with their power. Now, I don't use divine characters or gods normally. If I were to, I would house rule it that divine power only comes from deities and not abstract concepts or philosophical beliefs. Divine magic and arcane magic are external power sources that need special circumstances for mortal creatures to be able to control (training, a deity, a dragon for a grandpa, being really good at music, etc). This is my interpretation of arcane and divine magic and it is an interpretation I would extend to the house rules of any standard high fantasy setting I ran that had "normal" gods in.

Psionics, however, are a completely internal power source. That's not really relevant, just felt like saying it, because I like psionics.

The Immortals are kind of god-like in that they are powerful supernatural beings that can extend their powers to followers to grant them the ability to use divine spells and abilities from divine classes. They aren't even close to the power level of a normal DnD god. Maybe demigod, but that is about it. The reason I do not allow Thrallherds to take in divine characters is because these characters are already devoted and fanatical about something, the Immortal or god they serve. They're not searching for guidance and whatnot, they've already found it. Plus, all divine classes have a good Will save progression (Rangers don't, but they don't cast spells and thus aren't divine characters in my house rules). Not that that should really matter, as it removes a lot of arcane and psionic classes from the list of potential thralls and believers a thrallherd could have. How are people going to have their healerbots if I make that house rule?

Even if you could steal the loyalty/devotion/fanaticism of a divine character, they wouldn't be loyal to the Immortal or god anymore, so they'd lose their spells and spell-like and supernatural abilities and the Thrallherd couldn't give them any power because the Thrallherd is not a god. Additionally, depending on how high up in the hierarchy of the church a divine character was, the Immortal or god might come and try to take them back from the Thrallherd, or send other followers to do so. Jason came up with that last idea there.

One thought I had when I thought Thrallherds were mindraping and enslaving their believers and thralls was that if they should enter into an anti-psionic area, the pulse turns off and the thralls and believers would try to flee or kill their Thrallherd, depending on how they were treated. I could justify Grey trying to kill Donovan. There's no background tie the two have, Grey gets no special treatment from Donovan and his various needs are not addressed in any way or ever a concern. He just stands around keeping things from hurting Donovan. Plus he is an Elduman and even young ones like Grey and Donovan have a certain amount of pride and dignity and belief in their superiority. Any sort of bondage, especially mental, would likely infuriate them.

I mentioned some of my thoughts on all this to Jason and he exposed me to something interesting and infuriating that made me reassess what Thrallherding was and change my perspective from it being mindraping to it being fanatical devotion. The fanatical devotion thing doesn't bug me, as it actually strengthens the case for the pulse not affecting divine characters.

What infuriates me is that the Thrallherd ability is an extraordinary ability. Not psi-like or supernatural, extraordinary. So even if thralls were enslaved, anti-psionic effects would not affect the pulse and free them.

So just to give you an example of stuff, extraordinary abilities are special abilities that do not rely on magic to function that classes and races can do. Swift alchemy, rage, bardic knowledge, challenge, aura, nature bond, armor training, grit, monster lore, fighter training, flurry of blows, no trace, oracle's curse, divine health, favored enemy, sneak attack, mount, eschew materials, shield ally, witch's familiar, and arcane bond (familiar) are all extraordinary abilities from the Pathfinder classes. They're arranged in alphabetical order by the class they belong to, just for reference. A lot of abilities you see are going to be extraordinary in nature, especially the abilities of martial classes like the Fighter and the Gunslinger.

Spell-like abilities are those class or racial abilities that duplicate spells, but do not stem from the spells feature of spellcasting classes. Examples include the suggestion performance from the Bard, detect alignment from the Inquisitor, detect evil from the Paladin, summon monster I from the Summoner, and arcane bond (item) from the Wizard. I am sure there are more in like the discoveries and ninja tricks type sections of class documents, but I don't feel like digging through all of those to explain that spell-like abilities are abilities that function like spells of the same name. Psionics have their own version of this called psi-like abilities, and like spell-like, they are abilities that a race or class has that duplicate the effects of psionic powers and are not related to a class' ability to manifest psionic powers. Typically, psi and spell-like abilities do not have any material, somatic, or verbal components needed to use them.

There are also supernatural abilities. These are supernatural abilities or magical attacks, defenses, or qualities a class or race may have that don't fall under spell-like, generally it is kind of the category for weird innate stuff a class or race does that doesn't already have a clear cut spell or power to cover it. Alchemy, beast totem, countersong, channel energy, wild shape, judgement, arcane pool, ki pool, wholeness of body, lay on hands, twin eidolon, and blight hex are all supernatural abilities. Most martial classes don't have any supernatural abilities, or at least not access to them at all times. Barbarians have a few supernatural rage powers and I am sure Sorcerers have one or two in their bloodline powers.

Anyway. So what pisses me off is that the Thrallherd prestige class' thrallherd ability is extraordinary and works without any sort of supernatural, psionic, or magical effects as its source. So the Thrallherd, a psionic manifesting prestige class that can only be accessed by a class that can manifest psionic powers sends out a psionically generated subtle pulse of psionic power that calls to weak-willed individuals that want to be devoted to something and reacts with a hidden psionic resonance within them and nudges them towards the Thrallherd and being devoted to them. You know, now that I read that, it makes a lot more sense. Because a Fighter's armor training reducing the armor check penalty of armor he wears and increasing the amount of Dexterity bonus to AC he can have while wearing armor is totally the same style of ability as the thrallherd ability. Or a Ranger or Rogue's 20th level death attack ability that relies on skill, precision, and timing. Those are all extraordinary abilities. Sounds legit to me.

I am making my angry face right now because I feel a rage stroke coming on.

I mean seriously, by the logic of the thrallherd ability all charm and compulsion abilities are extraordinary abilities and not spell-like abilities, so spell resistance and anti-magic effects won't work on them. Sure, you have to be a spellcaster to use them, but that doesn't mean they are supernatural or spell-like in nature, just like you have to be able to manifest psionic powers to gain the thrallherd ability but it is a totally mundane in nature extraordinary ability. Charm person is a first level enchantment spell with a Will save to resist that makes someone your friend and does not grant you any control over them or even ensure they'll do what you want them to and they certainly won't do anything clearly suicidal or dangerous, and it wears off. That spell is a shit ton more mild than the thrallherd ability. Granted, it stems from the spells feature of classes, but a character can't use spells unless he is a spellcaster just like a character can't gain access to the Thrallherd prestige class and ability unless he can manifest psionic powers.

It isn't a perfect analogy, and I am not saying thrallherd should be a psi-like ability, as it doesn't duplicate any psionic power that I have heard of. I feel like it should be a supernatural ability that counts as a psionic effect though. I know most animal companion and mount abilities are extraordinary in nature, but come on. That is a pet. You have a pet. Everyone has pets. Having pets is ordinary. Your special connection to the pet and its improving abilities are the extra part, and thrallherd is far more potent than a familiar or companion ability. 

Speaking of mounts and companions, I have one last nit to pick at. If thrallherd is such a non-spell, non-psionic, non-supernatural effect, why are the Thrallherd and his thrall so linked that he gains a negative level for 24 hours if a thrall dies? I mean, a Samurai's mount is a loyal companion that comes to the Samurai and scales up in power over time and is an extraordinary ability all of which are true of the thrallherd ability. When a Samurai's mount dies, he mourns for a week and gets a new one, just like a Thrallherd gets a new thrall when one dies. The Samurai doesn't gain any sort of negative level or anything though. I don't think any mount or companion or familiar abilities give a negative level when the creature dies. Don't quote me on that, as I have no intention of paging through every class and archetype to check that. I will say this though, even a Summoner's eidolon, which is actually connected to the Summoner's life force, doesn't do anything like adding a negative level to the Summoner when it dies. This all seems peculiar to me.

In the future, I would switch thrallherd from extraordinary to a supernatural ability that is a psionic effect like I said above. I would also give all thralls and believers it draws to the Thrallherd a -2 to will saves and not allow any of them to take the Iron Will feat. I think this is appropriate because thralls and believers are weak willed and directionless individuals that are actively seeking to suppress their own desires and goals in favor of another's, otherwise they wouldn't be affected by the ability in the first place. I would also rule it that if a creature has power resistance as an ability, you cannot make it a thrall or believer. So you can still have Monks, but only if they are below 13th level. Remember, I have house ruled that Monks are psionic characters, so they gain power resistance instead of spell resistance. Since the pulse of a Thrallherd is so subtle and weak and non-mindrapy or invasive, it doesn't seem likely that it would be able to overcome even lower grade power resistance. 

So yeah. Thrallherds. I like 'em and think they're neat, but their mechanics sure do bug me.

I do also want to add one thing. Good on Dreamscarred Press for actually taking the time to make psionic powers that have names that fit the flavor of psionics and are not just stuff like psionic charm like WotC did. A lot of psionic powers are modeled after spells, but their names and descriptive text all seem to fit with the flavor of psionics instead of being "see spell X in rulebook Y." For instance, empathic connection has the mechanical effect of the charm person spell, but the descriptive text describes your mind reaching out and twisting the emotional strings of the target to apply to you. Much cooler than "see the effects of charm person" and a couple lines of text listing the augments for the power. 

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