One of my friends mentioned wanting to play a succubus in a pathfinder game and wants to use the savage species succubus class for it though at a glance the succubus class in savage species seems underwhelming to say the least with low combat ability and low utility. (At least compared to a caster of the same level.) What I wish to ask is that is it underpowered or would it be something like tier 3?
I strongly recommend against allowing it
Been there, done that.
My experience with the Savage Species succubus
I have gamed with a Savage Species succubus in my party before. It did not go well.
The way it turned out was, if there was any kind of social encounter, the succubus just stepped forward and solved the problem. The rolls were irrelevant because of her massive bonuses to social issues, so there was no point in anyone else contributing, nor was there much point in the NPCs making any attempt not to cooperate unless they were going to be actively hostile. There was basically no playing; all social concerns were a foregone conclusion.
On the other hand, every combat basically required someone to cover the succubus and protect her, because she was massively vulnerable to every enemy we faced. She was not able to contribute anything at all. We were lucky to have a fairly strong summoner who could assign a sufficiently-scary minion to her to keep her from getting picked off, but it was not a great situation.
Background on 3.5e “powerful races” and Savage Species
Since you’re coming from Pathfinder, if you are unfamiliar with how D&D 3.5e did things, originally you could not play a succubus at all unless you were starting at effective character level (ECL) 12th—and you didn’t get your first class level until ECL 13th. This was how Wizards of the Coast handled “powerful races” that got more than your standard race, as the succubus clearly does with its flight, spell-like and supernatural abilities, and damage reduction and energy resistance.
In the succubus’s case, 6 of that ECL 12th were racial hit dice (RHD), the 6d8 mentioned in the stat block, which at least provide things like hp, skills, base saving throws and attack bonus, and feats. These are not great compared to class levels—at all—but at least they’re something.
The other 6 come from the “LA +6” mentioned in the stat block, that is, “level adjustment.” Level adjustment meant that even though the succubus only had 6 HD, it counted as a 12th-level character. It just had the hp, skills, saves, and feats of a 6th-level one. This was meant to offset the special attacks and qualities, spell-like and supernatural abilities.
All Savage Species did was place these things on a progression so that you could start from 1st and build up to that 12th-level succubus, complete with 6 RHD and LA +6.
And ultimately, the issue with the Savage Species succubus is the issue with all of D&D 3.5e’s “powerful race” options, that take their first class level at some point later than ECL 1st. Changing it to the class progression doesn’t do anything to help that.
What’s wrong with 3.5e “powerful races,” Savage Species or not
So the first thing to note is that level adjustment is absolutely crippling. A succubus is supposed to be a 12th-level character with the hp, saves, attack bonus, skills, and feats of a 6th-level character. I think anyone reading that sentence already has a pretty good sense that this is not going to go well—and it doesn’t. The succubus is absurdly fragile for that level, and even moderately-challenging combat for 12th-level characters is going to be near-suicidal for the succubus. Her party will have to actively protect her, and she will have minimal ability to contribute anything to the fight.
However, that isn’t the end of the problems—if it was, we could maybe beef her up, or reduce the number of LA she has to suffer, and things would be OK. Some things with LA are very powerful, and arguably “worth it.” The succubus might be considered one, even, in an extremely social-heavy game.1 But they still have huge problems.
This goes back to my experience with the succubus being too good at some things, and too weak at others. I have referred to this in other answers as “character skew,” because it’s not that the character is necessarily “too good” or “too bad,” but just “too outside the game’s expectations.” Obviously, every character has their specialties and their weaknesses, but “powerful race” characters tend to be too good at their specialty, and too weak at their weakness. This makes them almost impossible to GM for.
And that is why I have banned “powerful races” from my games—and this decision was largely informed by my experiences with the succubus in particular. And I hate that, because I like having weird PCs in my games. The rules for them, unfortunately, just cause too much trouble.
What I try to do instead is to create “normal-power” races for these kinds of creatures. “Succubus lite” so to speak. Wizards of the Coast, by the way, did the same thing, in some cases, for their later books. The LA +3 half-dragon from the original Monster Manual is awful, and a later book included the LA +1 draconic to make it more tenable, and a book later still went as far as creating an LA +0 dragonborn, which is actually solidly playable. That’s precisely what I recommend doing here.
The succubus, though, is hard. That’s going to take more than a race. What I suggest, then, is to take something of a cue from Savage Species, and make a class, but not a class that results in the ECL 12th succubus with LA +6. Instead, what I recommend is making an archetype for some existing class—witch, perhaps, if the archetype changes it to be Charisma-based? or maybe a sorcerer, maybe you could just use a bloodline and not bother with an archetype—that gets some succubus-like abilities, and is racially restriced to your “succubus lite” race (which could just be succubus-descended tiefling, really). Now instead of having this weird skewed character, you have a normal character. As long as the archetype (or bloodline) is balanced with other archetypes (bloodlines), there won’t be any problem, and that’s a much easier proposition.
This is, in my experience, not just the best way to handle powerful races, but in fact the only way to handle them that actually works.
- Though I would argue that such a game is best played in something other than D&D; Dungeons & Dragons is first and foremost about dragon-slaying and dungeon-delving, and games that don’t involve quite a lot of both of those things tend to be wasting most of the system, and its systems for handling other kinds of conflict are extremely minimal and often outright unhelpful.
Powerful in its niche
This has a really weird level progression, but let's have a look and compare with sorcerers level by level:
- Level 1 - Extra feat, full BAB, all favoured saves, proficient with all simple and martial weapons (never bother with the claws), d8 hit die, maximum skill points (with Move Silently and Hide as class skills) and 5 points of resistance to all the common energy types. Forget the rogue, stick this character out front to scout and look for traps (for the rogue to disarm). If they can sneak up on any enemies then Tongues will let them understand whatever they hear. They have no ability to actively manipulate the fundamental forces of the universe yet, but with martial weapon proficiency they can just hit things for now - the sorcerer is pretty underwhelming with a few level 1 spells per day at this level.
- Level 2 - Full BAB and all favoured saves again, maximum skill points plus more skill points from a sudden +2 INT. Most importantly - Suggestion once per day! 3 levels before wizards can get it and 4 levels before sorcerers, with Tongues making sure that any language-using target can understand what the succubus is saying. (The other spells that can be cast once per day are situationally nice, but Suggestion is the game-changing winner.)
- Level 3 - I believe I can fly! Which is a good thing, because the BAB, saves and even hit dice and skills have mysteriously stalled for this level. Not that it matters - a level 2 succubus still has better BAB, saves, hit points and skills than a level 3 sorcerer. However, if Suggestion fails, the ability to fly above all grounded enemies and use a longbow (martial weapon proficiency, remember) long before other characters can fly is a game-changer. This would also be a nightmare for GM's putting a party through typical low-level dungeons, where flight is assumed to be unavailable to characters before level 5 at the earliest. Compared to the sorcerer who is still limited to level 1 spells, the succubus is definitely ahead.
- Level 4 - 3d8 with a newly received bonus of +2 Con definitely beats 4d4 for hitpoints; BAB is +3 instead of +2; Will is the same but Fort and Ref are better; plus an extra feat and the ability to use each of the 7 spell-like abilities 3 times per day each including Suggestion! In comparison, the poor sorcerer is only getting nine 1st and 2nd level spells combined per day.
- Level 5 - not much of a change compared to level 4 for succubus or sorcerer, let's go to level 6.
- Level 6 - The succubus can use each of its 7 spell-like abilities unlimited times per day, compared to the sorcerer who just learnt their first 3rd level spell. They also have better hitpoints, BAB, saves (equal on Will) and skill points than the sorcerer but that's just the icing on the cake.
- Level 7+ - The succubus gets +2 WIS, energy drain and better energy resistances. Not much else. One curious point - at level 7 the succubus is technically still a 4 HD monster. Which means that technically she could fall victim to the humble Sleep spell still - not that any enemies even try to use Sleep against 7th level characters!
- Level 8+ - The succubus can teleport herself and Charm Monster and do other stuff, but even through the sorcerer won't be able to teleport until level 10, the balance is shifting in the sorcerer's favour. By 12th level the sorcerer will have access to a range of up to 6th level spells while the succubus can do 10 specific things an unlimited number of times per day. Almost all those things rely on opponents being sapient beings that the succubus can speak to, although Energy Drain transcends communication barriers.
There are three things that I didn't go into detail with at each level - Spell resistance / damage resistance, natural armour and attribute increases:
- Spell resistance: SR of 6+HD is almost useless given the slow HD progression. Similarly, DR 10/+2 at 11th level is relatively unimportant, though it means minor enemies will do less damage.
- Natural armour: The succubus has no inherent armour proficiencies, but could take a feat or a class dip to learn to use armour. Or a friendly arcane caster in the party could cast mage armour on them. Regardless, the slow natural armour progression does not appear significant.
- Attribute increases: +24 attribute increases by level 12, consisting of +10 CHA, +6 INT, +4 WIS, +2 CON, +2 STR. Assuming that the saves against the succubus powers are based on charisma then it makes the powers quite hard to resist, especially the critical Suggestion and Charm Monster abilities. Otherwise the main benefit is in making the succubus a social-oriented "skill monkey".
So, to finally answer the question "is it underpowered?" At low levels the answer is an unqualified "No!" Build an archer who from level 3 can fly above ground-bound enemies and rain arrows on them with impunity, who can use Suggestion from level 2 to bring sapient enemies onto the party's side? That is so powerful that I would not allow it as a GM. At mid levels the succubus can hold her own - she does very well against sapient enemies but can also contribute with combat and reconnaissance abilities (fly in and teleport out if it goes wrong). At high levels it depends what other class/es the succubus takes, but Suggestion, Charm Monster and Energy Drain unlimited times per day is a powerful combination. Based on the definitions given in the accepted answer to this question I would say that the succubus is Tier 3 - "Good at one thing and useful outside that".
The real answer is - it depends on the campaign. If the campaign is set in settled areas or based on different factions of living beings opposing each other, the succubus has the potential to excel. If the campaign is focused on a crusade against the undead or fighting through constructs in wizards' towers then the succubus is likely to be unappreciated (and a true succubus would head back towards civilisation).