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So one of my players dropped this bomb on me during the discussion stages for a campaign we're going to start soon - he wants his character to be a Pokemaster.

Reading through the class though, it doesn't seem unbalanced or game-destroying, it just seems unusual. I'm not opposed to unusual things in my game and I'm inclined to let him play this class if he really desires to do so, though I'll work with him to tweak the names to something that fits the game thematically. It doesn't seem much different to me, mechanically, than the Summon spells.

But I would like to run this by the site just in case: what problems might this class cause, due to its unusual nature, that are unique or distinct from the potential problems that official classes may have or cause?

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"Balance" is highly subjective, so in order to get useful answers you'll need to provide some context about how your group plays and what qualities you consider when evaluating balance. –  BESW Jun 21 '13 at 16:13
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@Jeff The power of the "standard 3.5 base classes" even if we restrict things just to Core varies wildly from class to class and from player to player. You will have more luck trying to describe the amount of optimization your group expects, and then asking which classes it lines up with. I haven't even looked at it, but I really doubt it's stronger than the Wizard or weaker than the Monk. –  KRyan Jun 21 '13 at 19:19
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For reference, in this answer I talk about the potential power levels of each of the base classes, which largely follows the somewhat-widely adopted 3.5 Tier List (see also Why each class is in its tier for important background). –  KRyan Jun 21 '13 at 19:23
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I agree - closing this until you can put more context in. This would be fine for some groups and unacceptable for others - what does the party look like? –  mxyzplk Jun 22 '13 at 4:43

1 Answer 1

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Regardless of power, I would have some objections to this class in practice.

Player access to monster abilities

Firstly, there is the fact that it depends on controlling monstrous creatures. There are some decent limitations on this, but the fact is that getting access to monsters’ abilities is one of the quickest ways to break 3.5, because for the most part Wizards’ creature designers didn’t give much if any thought to how creatures’ abilities would cause problems if controlled by PCs. The open-ended nature of the Pokémaster, allowing him to capture any creature with the appropriate Types and below a certain CR, is ripe for abuse.

This becomes much less of a problem, however, if you either carefully consider which creatures you risk letting the Pokémaster have a chance to catch, or if you simply trust the player and make clear that you may at times bar him from catching certain creatures or from using certain abilities of the creatures he’s caught. But to me that introduces a lot of headaches that I don’t think a DM needs: in addition to carefully designing any encounters that comes up, he’s got the added problem of worrying about what happens if the Pokémaster catches one of them.

Reliance on the unreliable CR system

The second thing that worries me is that catching a creature is based on CR, which is awkward for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s extremely “metagame” information; the only official rules that involve a player referencing creatures’ CR is the Truenamer from Tome of Magic – almost unanimously agreed to be the worst-designed class in 3.5. (but, full disclosure: the fact that the Truenamer relies on CR is almost incidental to its poor design, after you consider all the other problems with it)

Ultimately, the CR system is ridiculously inconsistent, with creatures that supposedly have the same CR sometimes having wildly different power and actual threat levels. It doesn’t seem solid enough to me to be used for this purpose, even though this is exactly the kind of thing it should (if CRs were more accurate) be great for.

As a houserule, I’d probably just replace this with DM fiat, honestly, and I’d tell my player that up-front. I’d let him have most things, but things that have too high HD, too high CR, or too problematic abilities (see my first point) would not get captured. This would actually largely fix the class, but you have to make this clear to the player, and he has to be on board with that. With a DM who is a friend of mine and I trust, I’d be fine with that as a player. With a DM I don’t know, I’d accept that – and find a different class.

XP Time Bombs

The third thing that worries me is the large XP cost if a Pokémon dies. This turns their only class feature into walking time bombs. I don’t particularly like XP costs for this kind of thing (also seen in Familiars etc): supposedly the XP cost is due to the emotional loss of the pet dying, but you don’t see similar XP loss when NPCs die – even if they’re parents, lovers, or children. It just doesn’t seem appropriate to me. But anyway, this particular problem is pretty easy to deal with: just houserule those penalties out.

Conclusion

Personally, I would say something like this to the player:

You can provisionally take the class, but whether or not you catch a particular creature is going to be basically be determined by me on a case-by-case basis, more-or-less by straight DM fiat. Furthermore, I might let you catch a creature but not let you use all of its abilities, and finally I reserve the right ask you to release a creature if we figure out through play that it’s causing problems.

If you still want to play the class under these conditions, you are welcome to and I look forward to see how you fit the character into our setting. For what it’s worth, I promise I’m not actively looking to screw you on this, I just want to be clear that I am not very comfortable with you being able to get access to the special abilities of a monster just because it has the right type and was happened to be given a CR below your level.

But we will be waiving the XP penalties on Pokémon death, so you’ve got that going for you.

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@Jeff I wrote this answer basically attempting to answer what I think you want to know, rather than exactly what you asked. So let me know if this answers your questions and concerns; if it does, we should probably edit the question itself to match this answer better. –  KRyan Jun 21 '13 at 19:55
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This is actually pretty much exactly the kind of answer I was hoping to get. Thanks! –  Jeff Jun 21 '13 at 21:12
    
The various Monster Manuals were know to have CR deflation in them over time, in that 4 default characters could easily beat a CR1 MM1 monster, and get eaten alive by a CR1 MMV monster. (Adding something more specific to your CR comment) –  Canageek Jun 24 '13 at 6:47
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@Canageek It's definitely not that simple at all, basically because Wizards designers were definitely not all on the same page about what was expected from players or the system. Monster Manual II is particularly notorious for things with wildly inaccurate CRs – high and low. My favorite example is the Adamantine Horror with its at-will disintegrate and disjunction... at CR 9. –  KRyan Jun 25 '13 at 1:05
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hey, no need to waive xp penalties for pokemon death... pokemon don't die, they just get knocked out. –  matt lohkamp Jun 28 '13 at 9:51

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