There has been a revival recently in discussion around some of the class-deck characters, and the suitability (or otherwise) of the cards included in their decks.
Having played through the entire Season of the Shackles, this is difficulty we are keenly aware of- far, far too many times, we would pick up a boon during a scenario, or see another character thumb past a boon whilst rebuilding their deck, and lament that we would not be able to keep hold of such a card.
For me, perhaps the most extreme example of this difficulty can be seen by looking specifically at Melindra and at Weapons.
Melindra is a Gnome wizard, one of 5 wizards released so far in the game (the others are Ezren twice – once in Rise of the Runelords, and a second time in the class deck, Darago and Radillo). As the class-deck is designed for wizards generally, and not simply Melindra, I’m going to keep the others in mind, although my primary focus is Melindra. (There is another character who can be “unlocked” for play with this deck, but she does not use weapons, so will be ignored here).
Melindra’s Dexterity is a good D10, with her strength a rather lamentable D4. Although she is more extreme than the others, she does mirror a general trend, with all the other class-deck wizards having a dexterity dice 1 step up from their strength dice. Runelords Ezren has D6 for both stats.
In light of this, it might come as a surprise then to see that the Wizard class-deck contains only 4 dexterity-based weapons, versus 4 strength-based weapons. Add to this the fact that 3 of the 5 strength-based weapons require proficiency, a feat available only to Melindra amongst the wizards (i.e. the character with the strongest preference for dexterity over strength), and then only on one of her two role-cards, and this becomes even more baffling.
At the start of the game, Melindra has two weapons, equal with Darago, 1 more than either incarnation of Ezren, and 2 more than Radillo. For the first slot, you’ll obviously choose the Sling for a reasonable D10+D6, but for the second slot, you’ll probably be taking the Quarterstaff (D4+D6) over the rather dismal Rapier at 3D4-4, due to the penalty for those not proficient with weapons.
Levels 1 & 2 offer some slight relief for Melindra, as she is able to gain access to first of all an Allying Dart +1, for D10+D4+1 and then at level 2 a Light Crossbow +1 for D10+D8+1.
Unfortunately, this is where things grind to a halt, as the weapons at levels 3 and 4 represent great leaps backward for the wizards, being a Cutlass +1, and a Spellsword +2. Both are strength-based, and both require proficiency with weapons (or a -4 penalty), making them next to useless. The next time a dexterity-based weapon will appear will be adventure 5, where Melindra can grab a Force Sling +3, for D10+d6+3.
In a best-case scenario then, when fighting with a weapon, at level 5 or 6, Melindra will be rolling, D10+D6+6, assuming she has put the maximum 3 skill feats into dexterity, for an average of 15, or a maximum of 22 (or a minimum of 8).
Obviously, Melindra is not merely a weapons-based fighter. She is after all a wizard, and you would expect her to do the majority of her fighting with spells. It would be unreasonable if she could rival those characters who focus primarily on combat, and this has been a concern expressed by various people on the forums. However, she does start the game with multiple weapons, suggesting that she should at least be able to make some use of them. Anyway, avoiding parity with the dedicated weapon-users is already assured from the fact that her dexterity is only d10, not D12, the need to put skill feats into her intelligence, and the lack of the specific ranged bonus.
Looking at the Wizard class Deck, it seems hard to fathom why the Rapier or the Cutlass +1 in particular ever found their way in to the box in the first place – given that Melindra is clearly a rogue-like Wizard, it seems probable to me that, at some stage in play-testing, she was intended to have the power which enabled her to use dexterity, potentially even with a small bonus, on weapons with the “Finesse” trait, but that this was cut at some stage, and the offending weapon not removed.
On the theme of Melindra’s roguishness, it is worth noting that she has disable, a highly unworkable evade ability – (whereas the original Rogue could evade automatically, Melindra needs to perform a stealth check which scales with the adventure number, so that, even with maximum feats committed to it, it eventually becomes impossible without blessings [in adventure 6 you’ll need to roll a 17 on D10+5].
Obviously the game would be a lot easier if we were all simply able to have whatever cards we wanted, when we wanted, so the idea of giving people free-reign has caused some concerns, but I wanted to consider the options she would have in a different box.
Taking the Rogue class deck as the first example, the Shortbow for the Sling is essentially a straight-swap, but the availability of a dart or dagger would at least allow her to be rolling off her dexterity from the outset.
At level 2 there is the Deathbane Light Crossbow +1, a solid weapon even when not fighting the Undead, and likely to remain the weapon of choice throughout. Level 2 sees no difference to her own deck, but levels 3 and 4, instead of a pair of baffling swords, offer a venomous Dagger +2, and a Giantbane Dagger, to at least widen the options, level 5 offers the mighty Venomous Crossbow +2 (which does require proficiency, but otherwise offers her 2D10+2), and there are more options again at level 6, with the Acidic Sling +3 and the Returning Frost Spear +2.
Looking further afield, the Bard and Rogue decks both offer a Light Crossbow at level B, for Dexterity+D8, hardly a specialist or unusual piece of kit, with a Frost sling +1 appearing at level 1 for Sorcerers, and the Deathbane Light Crossbow+1 appearing again at level 2 for Ranger and the Bard.
I haven’t done a specific analysis of the weapons options which would be available to her in a standard Adventure Path- in some respects, this is too dependent on who else is around fighting for the boons. However, I think anyone who has played an AP knows that there are enough generic crossbows and the like around to know that she could certainly guarantee being able to take dexterity-based weapons without the need for proficiency, even if there wasn’t a steady stream of powerful upgrades coming her way.
Going back to the Organised Play setting, where characters build their decks exclusively from the cards contained in the relevant class-deck, the conclusion seems obvious to me. If Melindra had access to even a dagger in adventure B (she is after all pictured clutching a pair of daggers in her artwork), and some improved dexterity options later along it wouldn’t seem to be breaking the restrictions placed by the designers for the sake of game-balance, more to be correcting some otherwise inexplicable oversights. Putting a “current adventure minus 1” restriction in place for taking cards outside of the appropriate class deck would mean no access to things like the Deathbane Light Crossbow until adventure 2, to stop her outstripping the spell-less rogue in weapons-based combat, but might just give her a chance of avoiding a complete hand-wipe every time she finds herself needing to use one of the two weapons she must carry around in combat.
Share your thoughts below, or join the original discussion which prompted this article over on the Paizo forums