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I'm interested in whether it is possible to play certain (monstruous) humanoids from MM without adding their racial HD, whist at the same time preserving balance. What exactly would I need to do to make this work?

For context, I'm in situation where I'm playing with 4 friends, they're all level 3 and 2 of them contracted lycanthropy. They really want to play as lycanthropes and banning it will be a massive let down. However, I fear giving them lycanthropy will make other 2 PCs a lot weaker in comparison due to lyncthropes' increases in HP, BAB, abilities, DR and other things, and that will make encounters whole lot easier. Aside from all that, they like to play monster races, e.g. Orcs, Yuan-ti etc.

Here's some points:

  • PCs wouldn't gain BAB, base save bonuses, extra abilities due to racial HD(at 4th, 8th and so on), skill points, additional hit points, feats and so on...
  • PCs would keep feats and skill bonuses their race already had due to their racial HD(why? I got this idea from NWN 2 and I'm willing to remove it in order to preserve balance)
  • PCs would get special qualities from playing certain race(damage reduction, special attacks, spell-like abilities like charm, etc.)
  • PCs would keep level adjustment of that race therefore having ECL of class levels + LA instead of standard class levels + racial HD + LA
  • PCs would advance exclusively by gaining class levels.
  • Unless strictly enforced by race, PCs would choose their alignment.

There are few problems, for an example, if PC contracts lycanthropy, how would he increase power of his animal and hybrid form? Would he be able to increase it all?

Have you had any experience with something like this? I've read this article and Pathfinder's 'Monsters as PCs' seemed like a nice system but it works by keeping racial HD, am I right? Can I get your input on effectiveness on this and pathfinder's system.

Balance is priority

Any input will be appreciated. I can't stress how much I appreciate your inputs. I'll consult all of them deeply and work something out. Unfortunately, I can't mark any answer as accepted.

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Racial Levels

Frank and K's Tome of Tiamat was to include something appropriate for your needs, but it was never finished. However, you can take some inspiration from their forums, which offer a paradigm similar to the Savage Progressions offered by Sean K Reynolds. There is also the article/forum post "Improved monster classes: adapting creatures for player use" that covers similar ground, which you could take inspiration from as well.

Basically, take the advantages of lycanthropy, and slowly roll them out over several levels in place of the players gaining class levels - the idea of "coming into your curse." You might contrast this with Monsters as Races by thinking of it as Monsters as Classes. For lycanthropy in particular, this follows mythological standards, where people would often fall more under the power of their curse over time. Since lycanthropy is a magical curse, you might also add some negatives.

This largely follows the standards you presented:

  • Players gain no additional BAB, saves, etc. over taking normal class levels.
  • Players keep existing bonuses.
  • Players gain bonuses of the new template.
  • Players have to expend class levels gaining racial levels, effectively causing Level Adjustment.
  • This one is tenuous. Players gain racial levels instead of class levels. You might want to explain your rationale behind this point, because I may be interpreting it incorrectly. Consider also listing the current player classes (reminder that for monsters, regarding CR, races interact with classes differently depending on whether it's orthogonal to their existing modus operandi).
  • Players maintain their alignment choice unless you choose otherwise.

Balancing Benefits and Detriments

If you're averse to racial levels, you could also just select advantages and balance them with disadvantages - vulnerability to silver balanced with DR (level/3)/silver or good, +2 STR balanced by -2 DEX and -1 AC, etc.

This is straightforward, adds flavour to characters, but needs to be watched a bit carefully because it's possible the benefits might not be outweighed by the downsides (being non-intrinsic - you're choosing whether to have lycanthropy or not, no other investment; experience levels are quite an investment). Consider adding a couple more disadvantages than advantages, or varying them slightly depending on the person (the curse takes hold in a slightly different way for each person).

On the Note of Balance

Paizo (authoring studio of the Pathfinder RPG) took note of the behaviour of Level Adjustment over different level spans. At low levels, players with a monstrous race typically receive a good deal of benefit; but at higher levels, missing out on a couple levels of class features really isn't offset by the power of 1/day faerie fire (sorry, Drow).

Their approach was essentially to reduce LA by 1 for every 3 party levels, to a minimum of half their CR - so a level 12 Human Fighter might adventure with a Level 10 LA+4 Wizard. They grouped it such that the first extra level gain was half-way after level 2, so the grouping would be:

  • 1 to 2: LA -0 for LA0+
  • 2.5 to 5: LA -1 for LA2+
  • 5.5 to 8: LA -2 for LA4+
  • 8.5 to 11: LA -3 for LA6+
  • 11.5 to 14: LA -4 for LA8+
  • 14.5 to 17: LA -5 for LA10+ (?!)
  • etc, into epic levels.

Related

Some similar ideas for viewers: Racial Paragon Classes (advance an existing race beyond the norm - a racial paragon), Racial Substitution Levels (special bonuses for a class available only to particular races).

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Try Savage Progressions

This is pretty much precisely the use case of the Savage Progressions articles. They still have some of the problems of templates (particularly at high levels), but they allow players to slowly add abilities as they level up. You don't have to worry about a giant 9 LA jump.

Otherwise, see below...

Doing away with the racial hit dice will make the lycanthropes more powerful.

It all boils down to ECL. A natural weretiger with three class levels has an ECL of 12 (3 level adjustment + 6 racial HD + 3 class levels). This means that it is balanced for play with other twelfth level PCs.

If you eliminate the racial hit dice, then an ECL 12 weretiger would have 9 levels in their class. Nine class levels is going to be more powerful than six racial hitdice plus three class levels in pretty much all circumstances.

In the short-term, you may be able to pull it off.

In the short-term, the difference may be less noticeable. Running a hit-dice-less ECL 6 weretiger (with 3 class levels) with level 6 characters probably won't break anything.

The purpose of the racial hit dice is to keep powerful beast forms out of the hands of low-level players. A D&D tiger is a horror of teeth and claws... By sixth level, your party can probably deal with having most of the common lycanthropes around.

A lycanthrope character with three class levels won't play nice with level 3 characters.

If you throw out BOTH hit dice AND level adjustment, the template will be horrendously broken at 3rd level (unless playing afflicted as an incredibly dangerous and inconvenient curse... Something that's rarely fun).

No matter what you do, templates tend to be poorly balanced.

The fundamental problem with template characters is that "giving up three class levels" is a different cost at different levels. Low-level template character tend to be super-powerful glass cannons. At mid-levels, they show a good balance of toughness and power, but at high levels they basically just feel like they're a few levels behind everyone else.

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The racial HD / level adjustment scheme never worked. Kludge fixes like savage progressions only smoothed out the pain, didn’t really fix it.

I suggest that you attempt to make lycanthropy power-neutral, so that it can be applied to players without making things too problematic. Here’s my suggestion:

Afflicted Lycanthropy

Afflicted lycanthropy is an acquired template that can be added to any humanoid or giant (referred to hereafter as the base creature). Afflicted lycanthropy also refers to a creature of the animal type, known hereafter as the animal, which must be a predator, scavenger, or omnivore whose size is within one size category of the base creature’s size.

Size and Type

The base creature’s type does not change, but gains the shapechanger subtype.

Hit Dice and Hit Points

As the base creature.

Speed

In normal and hybrid forms, as the base creature. In animal form, the afflicted lycanthrope gains the movement modes of the animal.

Armor Class

In normal and hybrid forms, as the base creature. In animal form, the afflicted lycanthrope gains the natural armor of the animal, but loses the ability to wear armor.

Attacks

In normal form, as the base creature. See animal form and hybrid form, below, for details on those forms’ attacks.

Special Attacks

In normal form, as the base creature. See animal form and hybrid form, below, for details on those forms’ attacks.

Special Qualities

Alternate Form (Su)

The afflicted lycanthrope gains two alternate forms, known as hybrid form and animal form. Changing forms is a standard action.

Each form replaces the racial features of the base creature’s race, including racial bonuses to ability scores. An afflicted lycanthrope that qualifies for feats or prestige classes in its normal form does so in its hybrid and animal forms as well, even if the loss of racial features or the application of penalties from those forms would ordinarily disqualify the afflicted lycanthrope.

In the case of races that grant bonus feats, these bonus feats are retained, but the afflicted lycanthrope cannot use or benefit from these bonus feats. Any feats or prestige classes that require these bonus feats continue to function (the afflicted lycanthrope still has the feat, simply cannot use it) unless they rely on the use of a bonus feat directly (e.g. if the base creature had Deflect Arrows as a bonus feat, it would retain their Snatch Arrows feat that relies on it, but could not use it because using Snatch Arrows requires using Deflect Arrows).

A slain lycanthrope reverts to its humanoid form, although it remains dead. Separated body parts retain their animal form, however.

Afflicted lycanthropes find this ability difficult to control (see Lycanthropy as an Affliction).

Animal Form

The animal form of the afflicted lycanthrope is identical to a druid using wild shape to become the animal, except that the afflicted lycanthrope loses their racial features as noted above. An afflicted lycanthrope is not limited in either duration or frequency of taking on its animal form, as a druid is, but again, as noted above, afflicted lycanthropes can have difficulty controlling the ability.

Hybrid Form

The hybrid form of an afflicted lycanthrope is a mix between the base creature and the animal. The afflicted lycanthrope has its ability scores changed by hybrid form, and gains natural weapons.

Ability Scores: In hybrid form, the afflicted lycanthrope gains ability score bonuses based on the animal’s ability scores. If the animal has Strength at least 4 higher than its Dexterity, the afflicted lycanthrope gains +2 Strength and −2 Dexterity while in hybrid form. If the animal has Dexterity at least 4 higher than its Strength, the afflicted lycanthrope gains +2 Dexterity and −2 Strength. If the animal’s Strength and Dexterity are within 3 of each other, the afflicted lycanthrope does not gain adjustments to those ability scores.

If the animal has Intelligence 1, the afflicted lycanthrope receives a −2 penalty to Intelligence and +2 to Wisdom or Charisma, whichever is higher for the animal (if tied, the afflicted lycanthrope chooses which ability score receives the bonus upon being afflicted; once chosen, the choice cannot be changed), while in hybrid form.

If the animal has Intelligence 2, the afflicted lycanthrope may choose to take the changes to mental ability scores while in hybrid form, as if the creature had Intelligence 1, or not, taking no changes to mental ability scores.

If the animal has Intelligence greater than 2, the afflicted lycanthrope gains a +2 bonus to Intelligence and a −2 penalty to Wisdom or Charisma, whichever is lower for the animal (if tied, the afflicted lycanthrope chooses which ability score receives the penalty upon being afflicted; once chosen, the choice cannot be changed), while in hybrid form.

Attacks: The afflicted lycanthrope gains, in hybrid form, natural weapons similar to those of the animal.

If the animal had a pair of primary natural weapons, the afflicted lycanthrope in hybrid form gains a pair of natural weapons of the same type. The afflicted lycanthrope’s version deals 1d6 plus their Strength modifier in damage (for a Medium afflicted lycanthrope), regardless of how much damage the animal’s did.

If the animal did a single primary natural weapon, the afflicted lycanthrope in hybrid form gains a natural weapon of that type that deals 1d8 plus 1½ their Strength modifier in damage (for a Medium afflicted lycanthrope). This counts as a two-handed weapon for the purposes of Power Attack and similar.

If the animal had both sorts of primary weapons, the afflicted lycanthrope chooses one when afflicted. Once chosen, the choice cannot be changed.

In hybrid form, the afflicted lycanthrope may continue to use manufactured weapons.

Low-light Vision (Ex)

A lycanthrope has low-light vision in any form.

Lycanthropic Empathy (Ex)

In any form, lycanthropes can communicate and empathize with normal or dire animals of their animal form. This gives them a +4 racial bonus on checks when influencing the animal’s attitude and allows the communication of simple concepts and (if the animal is friendly) commands, such as “friend,” “foe,” “flee,” and “attack.”

Scent (Ex)

A lycanthrope has the scent ability in hybrid or animal form.

Base Save Bonus

As the base creature.

Abilities

In normal form, as the base creature. See the animal form and hybrid form entries, above, for more details on how those forms affect ability scores.

Skills

As the base creature.

Feats

Generally, as the base creature. Creatures who gained bonus feats as racial features lose those when in animal or hybrid form. See the alternate form entry, above, for more details.

Level Adjustment

+0.

The ability to switch into animal form can be useful, and low-light vision, scent, and empathy are always active, so there are upsides to this template. They’re fairly minor, however, and the removal of racial features ensures that the alternate forms are not that great. The issues controlling the transformation, I think, cover those advantages well enough to consider this a power-neutral-ish template.

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