Last week I did something completely different for one of my Iconic Design articles—I designed a shifter aspect. Normally I just make builds. This week I’m going to break another mold—I’m going to walk you step-by-step through my process for creating this aspect. Ready? Let’s go!
Reiteration—Here’s the aspect I designed last week, just for ease of reference:
The eagle is a proud avian that dominates the skies with all the majesty of a king. Those who take this aspect gain enhanced abilities
Minor Form: You gain a +2 enhancement bonus to your Charisma score. At 8th level, the bonus increases to +4, and at 15th level it increases to +6.
Major Form: Your shape changes to that of a Large eagle. While in this form you gain a bite attack (1d6 damage), two claw attacks (1d6 damage), a fly speed of 60 feet (good), low-light vision, and the benefits of the Dazzling Display feat, which you use as if you had Weapon Focus (claw). If you have Dazzling Display or Weapon Focus (claw), you gain a +2 racial bonus on Intimidate checks for each feat you possess (maximum +4). At 8th level, you can use Dazzling Display as a standard action or an immediate action when you confirm a critical hit with your shifter claws. At 15th level, you can use Dazzling Display as a swift action and your fly speed increases to 90 feet (perfect).
Step 1: Scaffolding
So the first part in my design strategy is to ask myself, “Has anyone in the official Pathfinder RPG done this before?” Typically, I start looking at the Core Rulebook line first and the other lines second. While all Paizo products are good, the Core Rulebook line has the fingerprints of the Pathfinder Design Team on it more so then the other ones, and their wording is typically tighter. Referencing someone else’s rules is REALLY helpful when constructing your own.
As fate would have it, Ultimate Wilderness has a shifter aspect that is VERY similar to the eagle in terms of concept—the falcon. When I say “similar,” I mean, “You can shapeshift into a bird,” which is the lynchpin of the experience. In other words, I’m looking more for my scaffold—or the existing “structural support” I’m using to guide my design—in the major aspect, since the minor aspects are pretty straight-forward. Here’s the falcon aspect for ease of reference:
The falcon senses all and has the speed to hunt down even the most elusive prey. Those who take this aspect gain enhanced abilities to perceive and reconnoiter the wilderness—little escapes this shifter’s attention.
Minor Form: You gain a +4 competence bonus on Perception checks. This bonus increases to +6 at 8th level and +8 at 15th level.
Major Form: Your shape changes to that of a Small falcon. While in this form, you gain a bite attack (1d4 damage), two claw attacks (1d3 damage), a fly speed of 60 feet (good), low-light vision, and a +4 racial bonus on vision-based Perception checks. At 8th level, you gain darkvision with a range of 120 feet, and your racial bonus on Perception checks increases to +6. At 15th level, you gain blindsense with a range of 60 feet and your fly speed increases to 90 feet (perfect).
When looking at the falcon shape’s major aspect, I see first that the shape is Small, and the natural weapon damage supports that. The falcon also has a good fly speed, low-light vision, and a bonus on Perception checks baseline. At 8th level, they get a massive darkvision range and the racial bonus on Perception checks goes up. Finally, they get blind sense and their fly speed improves. This tells me that the falcon is focused heavily on vision more than anything, so when I do eagle that is a niche I do NOT want to hit. After all, stealing is bad m’kay. It WILL lead to either (A) my eagle obsolete or (B) the Paizo falcon obsolete—neither of those is good. A good designer wants both options to be viable so their work improves the overall quality and quantity of content in the game.
With this in mind, there is a second avian with similar abilities I can look to for scaffolding, the owl. Let’s check it out.
The aspect of the owl is one of silence. This predator glides through the night unheard, a master of stealthy attacks.
Minor Form: You gain a +4 competence bonus on Stealth checks. This bonus increases to +6 at 8th level and +8 at 15th level.
Major Form: Your shape changes to that of a Medium owl. While in this form, you gain two talon attacks (1d6 damage), a fly speed of 60 feet (average), darkvision with a range of 60 feet, and a +2 racial bonus on Stealth checks. At 8th level, you gain Flyby Attack as a bonus feat, and the range of your darkvision increases to 120 feet. At 15th level, you can take the form of a Large owl and gain the benefits of the Snatch feat, but you can use it only to grab a creature at least one size category smaller than yourself, and you can squeeze a creature grappled with this ability no matter what size it is.
Looking at this major aspect, what do you see? I see a Medium flying creature with no bite attack (claws only). They have better vision at low-levels (darkvision > low-light vision), but eventually that tapers out when falcon gets their own darkvision. Where the falcon excels at vision, the owl is REALLY good at Stealth. They eventually get the ability to snatch up prey, grow in size, and deal more addition. They are also better suited towards combat, being larger and having benefits like Flyby Attack and Snatch.
So to recap, in order to hit a sweet spot my eagle needs to be (A) less vision-oriented then the falcon, (B) less stealthy then the owl, and (C) not focused on flying agility-based tactics like Flyby Attack.
Step 2: Research
With all this in mind, next I need to do research. First, I know that all shifter minor forms are based on hunter aspects, so I need to check to see if the hunter has an eagle aspect. The answer is yes: the courtly hunter has an eagle aspect, reproduced below:
Eagle: The creature gains a +2 enhancement bonus to Charisma. This bonus increases to +4 at 8th level and +6 at 15th level.
This is likely jiving off of the eagle’s splendor spell. This is a difficult synergy because the shifter doesn’t have a lot going for it Cha-wise, but to break the pattern will doom this eagle aspect to being seen as amateurish. I need to follow Paizo’s design.
Along the same lines, I know that Paizo’s major aspects are build off of the beast shape II spell, so I quickly go and look up that spell. Check it out on the sidebar to the left. As you can see, beast shape II allows Large creatures, and considering the falcon starts at Small and the Owl starts at Medium (eventually growing Large), I think I can build a cool niche for my eagle aspect by making it Large to start. Before I do this, I search to see if I can find any precedent of a Large eagle-like animal or magical beast. (The Large owl is a giant owl, after all, which is a magical beast.) What I find is the giant eagle—a magical beast that’ll suit my purposes well enough.
Step 3: Tying it Together
So, let’s look at what I’ve gathered so far:
- Needs to have a Charisma bonus as a minor aspect to fit with established patterns.
- Cannot focus too much on Perception, Stealth, or agile flight / dog fighting for its mechanics.
- Should have a base size of Large to set it apart from the other aspects.
Now I need to tie it all together!
The first thing I think of is what to do with a Charisma bonus. How do I make it sync together? I remember that you get a size bonus to Intimidate checks if you’re bigger than your foe, and I was planning on making my eagle major aspect Large. Eagles are pretty intimidating—they have sharp eyes and always look intimidating in whatever picture I see of them. That’s likely why they have Charisma as their stat. With this in mind, I decide to give my eagle aspect the niche of being really good at Intimidating.
To make my plan work, I give the eagle Dazzling Display as a bonus feat—there’s a precedence for that in the owl major aspect. Now, Dazzling Display specifically requires you to “present the chosen weapon” with Dazzling Display, so I give the feat a line that lets you use your claws with the feat. Now, I think that an eagle shifter with Shatter Defenses and Deadly Stroke would be REALLY cool, but I don’t want to ruin this aspect by just making it “feats in a birb” for design. That’s boring. But I also don’t want the major aspect’s ability to be useless if the shifter takes Weapon Focus and Dazzling Display on their own, so I give the aspect an ability that instead gives the shifter a bonus on Intimidate checks if she takes Dazzling Display and Weapon Focus on her own. This will let shifters who don’t want to focus on Intimidate still get cool mileage out of the class while also giving those who buy into the Intimidate route a bonus so they don’t kill off their own class feature.
Next, I add some classic “make Dazzling Display easier to use” abilities by giving the shifter more ways to activate Dazzling Display, thereby making Shatter Defenses and Deadly Stroke even more attractive for the shifters who want to go for them. Finally, we end with a small speed boost and another action economy improvement to Dazzling Display.
I hope this helps you understand my design process. If you have any questions, leave them in the commons section below. Until next time, this is Alexander Augunas, the Everyman Gamer, signing off!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.