Monday, November 9, 2015

Tinkering with the Tinker: Levels 1-9

On April 25, 2014 I started building my Tinker for a Pathfinder adventure path.  As of the time of writing this post, I have achieved level 9 from level 1.  The adventure's player guide calls the adventure path "Serpent's Skull" I feel like it should have more to it in the naming, but I have not made an effort to look up the adventure as I am still playing it.

This is a review of the Tinker class, made by Interjection Games.

If you have not played it, and wish to avoid spoilers, I will not be intentionally providing spoilers, but I will not be holding back if it sacrifices my review of the class. Also, if you have played the adventure path, and notice anomalies, it's because the DM has a habit of greatly modifying the base adventures as he sees fit.  Basically, don't assume any adventure references will apply to your DM's running of the adventure path.  This warning applies to all future reviews for this adventure.

Here is a link to a character sheet snapshot for interest in statistics and choices.
Please excuse the mess, it's a living document since 2014.

The Party
Our initial party consisted of a ranger with bow focus, a paladin with an intimidation focus and myself for a total of three adventurers.  We most commonly took an NPC cleric with us when adventuring and still do.  Though we have built him to also be a magic item crafter.

Our paladin was forced to leave, and we are trying to get a replacement character started.  The latest class he's played was a Cavalier, but previously he tried a Wizard and was disappointed with the results.

The Basics
While playing the tinkerer, I have had no complaints about the core traits.  Skills, Hit Dice, Base attack progression.  It all seems pretty in-line with a utility character type not focused on combat, but near the front lines. It also gives you some useful skills and allows you to be a trap finder should that be your thing.  As I mentioned into the Intro to the Tinker, the Use Magic Device, Perception and Spellcraft all are really handy.

I've investigated the potential of improving the armor class of my character via feats for greater armor proficiency, but have not been targeted enough for that to be worthwhile and my strength isn't too conductive to heavier armor.  Mostly I have spent my feats on more innovations.  I'll go into more detail on that later.

As for the ability scores I chose, I am only a bit unhappy about my charisma.  It is inhibiting an improvement to the range of Master's Presence.  Aside from lack of strength for carrying, it's not so bad.

The Core Abilities
Building Automatons
If you look at the character sheet I've linked, there is quite a bit of madness in there.  When it comes down to it, I created an easy method for me to create and utilize my automatons.  Without it, I think I would have had a VERY hard time building and managing my minions. This is NOT a class for someone disinterested in doing paperwork for the campaign. I build and rebuild minions by filling in the Blueprint Calculations tab with inventions and anything else that affects the statistics of an automaton. Using these sheets helps me break down where every bonus is coming from and helps me recalculate should some basic trait be altered.  For instance Preferred Blueprint, size category changes or improved construction.  This data is then totaled at the bottom and in the weapons section (orange) and sent to the Blueprints/Automatons sheet.  There it displays the full information in short hand and calculates the Master's Presence.

Feel free to steal the sheet should you wish to make a tinker, this is a LIFE SAVER.  Roughly put instead of calculating a small size automaton, and its hit dice effects over and over, I can copy paste data between blueprints, just add or replace inventions and otherwise manipulate the sheet with little trouble.  The only real issues I have are with hooking up a new blueprint which is a careful process of copy pasta and adjusting.

With all the exceptions, requirements and math involved I must reiterate this is not a class for lazy people. I find this kind of work entertaining and enjoyable so it's actually one of my favorite parts when I'm not rushed.  Tweaking and rebuilding my minions.

The Good
You actually get to build your minions.  I love it. I like picking their weapons, their special abilities and even their color with one of the expansions. (Remedial Tinkering: Happy Little Automatons) I have not had a lot of time with the paint in Happy Little Automatons, but I think I would have loved it earlier in my tinker career. Your end result is a custom built Crafter, Vendor, Assault Bot and so on. The point system is logically straight forwards, and with only a handful of blueprints, it's not overwhelming once you get going.

With the invention book working just like a spellbook, as long as your wallet holds out you can learn everything.  You can't INSTALL everything on the same bot, but you can KNOW everything.

The Bad
There are a lot of unnecessary taxes. You have to buy your automaton's arms. If you want it to speak there's another point. Your bow will need a quiver by the way, and it doesn't come stocked. Even minor tweaks cost a point or two. Some costs can be reduced by taking Designer or Permanent Fixture, but I think that a few of these critical and sometimes redundant inventions and complications could stand to be removed.

Scaling is few and far between. As someone who plays a wizard, if it isn't all powerful, and doesn't scale, then you're probably not going to take it. The basic automaton doesn't even have multiple attacks on the chart.  That implies that once you reach level 20, you're probably still only going to have a base attack bonus of six on your minions.  Your alpha will probably get a second attack around 15.

This isn't even looking at inventions.  Most inventions have a set amount of damage that will never increase. The primary exception being the Kamikaze, this ability manages to be trailing behind a wizard's fireball in perpetuity, with it's closest approximate being my current level nine equivalent doing a blistering 7D6 + 1 + 1d4 to an area 15ft in radius as opposed to the 20ft 9D6 of a fireball.  Last level the top was actually two less with 5D6 + 1d4. I give special exception to the Electroshocker. This weapon is not really used for it's ability to do 3d4 damage, but for it's devistating ability to Daze the opponent. Fortunately, effect DCs DO scale. One expansion introduces fireworks, lots of complication for a couple dice of damage and minor effects, but nothing to call home about.

Many inventions need some clarification. For instance, how is the saddle used?  Can you use ride checks or do you need to command the minion to move with a standard action? What does the diplomacy even do for endearing design? Why would anyone take weapon mount instead of arms? If minions try to assist you in crafting and they don't have the skill, can they even grant a bonus? How should you handle initiative? Do automatons ever 'run out' or can you save them overnight? What attacks are magic and which aren't against incorporeal foes?

Using the Automatons (combat)
First off, always have your full allotment already deployed. There's nothing saying they die overnight, so you can start of with a crew AND have a full allotment of summons.  Even if they're on their last legs you can use them for a Kamikaze. Which I'm assuming you took because its one of the few attacks that scale. Second, the tinkering 201 introduced flying minions, so if you haven't strapped a saddle to your alpha and are aerial right now I hope you aren't level yet for both flying and saddles (level 4, requires one innovation and a point in ride, 4 points for infinite flight minion). Finally, forget ever having standard actions. In the rare case I find time for standard actions, I realize I have an allying shovel in one hand and a shield in the other therefore I spend another move action on something else. Also, something I learned late in the game, use your alpha up front, it takes very few innovations (feats) to turn them into an attack of opportunity fiend and a brutal two handed wielder.

As with building automatons, you have to be with it. You have to pay attention, plan during other players turns, and have a set of actions ready to go when it's your turn. Bonuses ready, dice rolls noted, stat blocks handy.  You're effectively playing four characters now, even though one is mostly just telling the others what to do. If you've got a sane DM, he'll let you shorthand your actions once he's used to your minions.  For instance, at this point I pretty much denote who has the allying bonus, who has +2 vs which target (Combat Advice), what order I give, and then roll all the attacks. It helps that the DC is always the same (22).

You need Buffers. Not spaces between things, you need someone to cast haste, or mass bull's strength, or mage armor. Without it, your minions lose out on some important benefits to damage, defense or even in some cases utility. Personally I created myself a couple magic items for the job with permission from the DM, but with so few standard actions it makes it hard to use. Mage armor can be done pre-fight if I remember, but the haste kazoo has to be used mid-fight and those standard actions are like electrum. Still, giving all my automatons and some allies bonuses to speed and an extra attack (that they'll probably never get otherwise) and a little dodge is pretty great for a single strong opponent.

The Good
When things go well I'm doing what I wanted, commanding an army of minions who run around causing chaos and occupying squares. I may be performing few personal actions, but I'm far from lacking things to do. I always wish I had just one more action. The flair of it all is amazing too, aerial combats harassing ground combatants or dueling flying opponents. Zapping things into control with my tasers (electroshockers) or sending minions in to obliterate with fire and shrapnel.

Minions are constructs. No mind effecting abilities, no fort saves that wouldn't affect objects, darkvision and the lot. It's amazing to have that, and when one of them can give your other minions orders? It doesn't matter if the fleshy party is enthralled by the enemy, they're going to keep kicking ass and taking names.

The Bad
When things don't go well, my minions are always missing. They're essentially crit fishing or bouncing off damage reduction (fire and non-magical damage have that issue). Sure they're durable, but that doesn't really matter if they can't HURT anything. Even the electroshocker has to actually deal damage to daze (less common but still common DR). Very few things have the ability to brute force their way through DR (alpha is the only candidate worth mentioning) and special materials aren't a thing till level 3 inventions (in an expansion book) and that's only for slam attacks. You CAN equip the minions with ammunition, potions and alchemical weapons, but if they die they are destroyed. At level 4 inventions a way to bypass specifically magic damage reduction is available for 1 point, but by this time I've been ignored by enough foes to expect opponents to ignore me.

Using inventions sucks. Special inventions that is. Assuming you don't have to re-order your minions every turn, you will if you want them to activate special weapons such as electroshockers, repair kits or combat maneuvers. Activating ANY invention requires a standard action unless it is activating a support item and you have commanded the minion to support a target. This can be someone mitigated early fight with tactical use of Defend commands, and are two innovations that can help, but otherwise you may find yourself in between using your alpha to bypass DR or having it order a minion to attack a foe.

The innovation needs are REAL. You've probably seen it throughout this review so far. You are crippled unless you take this innovation, or that innovation. I think there are a handful of innovations that should be downgraded to inventions, some in greater innovations that could be dropped to regular innovations, and maybe some things you just shouldn't have to pay for (I'm looking at you speaker). As you can see in my character sheet, I've pretty much burned every feat in the book on innovations with the exception of Combat Advice.  Fast learner is essentially chosen as a potential 3 innovations instead of one. With all of the innovations I've chosen, I still have issues even making my minions look threatening when they're not exploding (though when they are their bite isn't as impressive as the bark.)

The concept of a character not personally taking part in a fight seems almost alien to Pathfinder (and DnD in general probably.) It's hard to find magic items and feats that are well geared towards mastering these minions. Without them being able to use magic items, and without me actually doing anything direct, I've had to come up with weird and exotic equipment just to keep them running. For instance allying weapons so they can have magic bonuses or haste kazoos. Feats are also tough. Most Teamwork feats aren't all that useful and would only apply for the alpha. Also be sure to pay attention to special wording that might invalidate mindless constructs as targets. (say... enlarge PERSON.)

Let me tell you the story of the Tinker who's alpha died at level 5 in the middle of the jungle. No seriously, it cost 4000g to replace at level 5. My DM took pity on me and let me rebuild it for a fraction of the price at the next town. It's just ridiculous that the most melee capable minion you have will set you back a +2 magic armor, or +2 int item, or any number of great things.

Using the Automatons (Non-Combat)
If you look at my choices, you'll notice I went a particularly martial route.  With three members of the party there was no room to stray to sweep up the magic item crafting. This was a REALLY difficult choice. But I can roughly imagine the result with item crafting. Remember, a caster needs to sit with the person who is doing the crafting for the full duration if they are providing a spell, so potions probably not a good choice, and I would likely be disappointed with the amount of items that used Weapons, Armor, Bow or Alchemy for their crafting component (can only make minions with craft skills you have).

The Good
For mundane crafting you are SET if you would normally have time to craft. Your minion does essentially triple the work you do in a day. It also can provide assists for anything you might need and comes with it's own set of tools. This doesn't really hit extremely useful levels until at least 3rd level inventions when you scrape up the last of the skill bonuses, since it's based on HD and automaton HD doesn't increase much you need all you can get. I helped mitigate this by a magic item with Crafter's Fortune 2x a day +5 to target till their next craft check for the win.

Did I mention INFINITE FLIGHT? Also, by putting saddles on the little automatons your friends get free rides too!  One build point for giving your allies flight that you were already giving your minions is GREAT! The whole setup costs 4 build points, but it's like getting +10 speed, flight and mounts. Since rotor is a design it tallys up those two design points from designer nicely.

Even if you don't use infinite flight, there's a cool grappling hook ability, and you can make your minions go 50ft for their base speed (60ft for alpha) with a few low level design inventions, some of which that improve in later invention levels. There's no shortage of design options!

The alpha makes for a pair of hands that can be where you're not, or where you cannot go. Doesn't breathe so it can check out underwater pretty easy. Doesn't suffer from hallucinations or any number of poisons or diseases. It might fly, dig, float or even run way faster and way better physically than you probably can, so let it.

The Bad
Remember those standard actions for inventions? Yeah, that includes perception skill sets. And should you think sense motive is a good idea that too. Oh and since the skill bonuses are based on HD prepare to be disappointed in the highest achievable skill. Easier just to ignore physical with the flight invention.  No point in even thinking about a diplomacy bot until speaker at level 4 inventions and even then with no int score I can't even imagine how they could use diplomacy for anything.  At that you would never give it to an alpha as wasting those precious points on your biggest damage potential is a terrible idea.

The Other Abilities
There's a lot to want here. That's great!  I think it's a good sign that you want things from a pool of cool abilities. There's also necessary stuff here. That's not so great. I feel like if the character pretty much needs to take something to be useful/competitive, you might as well just give it to them. And with the tinker usually being easily ignored by most foes, perhaps a bit of an edge might not hurt. For necessary options see: Kamikaze and Designer. Kamikaze at least should be stock. Designer just makes it playable early game. When compared to things like Not Again! and Aid Directive it's no contest.

Greater Innovations
Rebuild Alpha, Swap Out, Prismatic Strike, these really shouldn't be here. I'm aware the creator has a bit of a love of Prismatic Strike, but just no.  A level 1 invention gives +1 to all weapon attack damage, but we need a greater innovation for a +1 to energy weapons? I might consider it for a regular innovation should I run out of choices. If it weren't for Efficient Reconstruction's +2 HD I would put it in the same boat. Oddly enough it counteracts itself by increasing how much you have to pay should your alpha die by increasing it's HD again. Also, Contingent Kamikaze is just a liability, if the party knew you CHOSE that feature... I mean really, that is invention material if I ever saw it, maybe we can replace speaker with it, and make speaker 0 cost.

Edit: So I did some careful shorthand math using an example from the writer for Prismatic Strike.  At level 14 (level at which half the starting gold for a character can afford a +6 weapon as described) a tinker getting a full round attack with a burst rapier scoring all crits while all of his minions attack foes, using the most abusive interpretation of the wording can score an additional 42 damage in one turn from 12 attacks.
Using the least abusive interpretation its 15 additional damage per turn from 12 attacks.
I am of course assuming the tinker got paint target so as to most effectively allow themselves to maximize attacks with their rapier.  That said, I have strong doubts they'll ever get a full attack action as they will probably need to change targets every round should they be successfully hitting non-resistant targets in this fashion.
Fire resistance 10 would wipe almost half the benefits away, fire/electricity resist 10 pretty much all of it. A quick survey of the presented monsters in the PSRD (avoiding dragons) at CR14 show 7 of 15 had both, 4 had one and 4 had no relevant resistances, 2 of the four that had neither had a vulnerability.
I can break down the math at earlier levels, but given this was the earliest the ideal circumstance can arrive I think the concerns are obvious and relevant.

Master's Presence
This is okay it definitely adds some flavor to commanding and incentive to work as a squad. It feels like it could be better for Combat Maneuvers as they quickly lose pace, and some passive boost to damage would help.

This is that +1 to all craft checks for every two levels. I could just as easily not had this. It's tallied up to a cute +4, but at my level I just made a 40 rolling a 5. It's fluff, as hitting craft DCs isn't all that hard, and when you combine it with a huge inability to do anything QUICKLY, it's nigh worthless. See Swift Alchemy and Master Alchemist for attempts at making crafting not suck. This isn't even worth as much as a feat by level 10.  For someone who makes intricate almost living creatures level times per day you'd think they could at least make a longsword in a jiffy.

The Swarm
This isn't so much a review as a prediction. Until able to be used for disintegrate, this will be a gimmick. The Fabricate ability should be looked at closely, for most crafting projects it's not useful as only one material can be used. Might be useful for impromptu doors, small mundane supplies like walking canes and chairs, sabotage and moving 40 lb objects. (Most of these things already doable easily).

I'd say this is a very interesting idea.  A lot of the stuff here is pretty awesome.  There's a lot of potential. That said, I have some gripes. The class IS playable. In fact, I am playing it now (with some minor house rules) and I am not doing great.  I'm not doing poorly, but my little automatons aren't doing much with their meager base stats. They aren't fearsome enough to draw enemy fire, putting the alpha, myself and the party members on the line instead of the disposable assets.

Outside of combat they help crafting greatly... When I have a month of free time, which was once ever in the campaign.

If it weren't for such a flexible DM, I would have lost a lot of hope in this class. I have a couple custom abilities to make up their deficiencies, such as a scaling acid attack. They've also allowed me to use my craft skills in less time consuming, but less mechanically helpful ways (RP stuff).

But I just can't get enough of trying to rebuild to solve the problem. I don't think I can do it within the system, so in my next post, I'm planning on seeing if I can improve the system.  It's not that I don't like the class, but at this point I have regrets for picking it as others might help the party better. If I really didn't like the class, I wouldn't take the time to write about it.  I'd say I love it... except it could use some touch ups.

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