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D&D 3E
PC Races and Flight 
6th-Jan-2010 06:47 am
Do Science to It
So, I'm working on a campaign setting. Generally speaking, the world is made of floating islands, so airships and such are an important part of the game. My sticking point is that I have two races that can fly. Since this is obviously a significant advantage, I'm having some trouble balancing them, and talking with some D&D friends have only complicated the matters. I feel that the aerial nature of the setting makes flight even more useful than it normally is, and my friend believes that flight becomes more standard and therefore less meaningful.

Any help or suggestions with how to handle these creatures would be quite welcome.

Sheevra
Sheevra are small, pixie-like nature beings. They are normally humanoid and their wings are usually invisible, but they can take flight with little effort, causing their wings to appear. The exact nature of the wings depend on the sheevra, but they are usually insectoid such as butterfly or dragonfly wings.
  • -2 Strength, +2 Dexterity, -2 Constitution. Sheevra are lightning fast, but weak and frail of frame.
  • Small: As small creatures, sheevra gain a +1 size bonus to Armor Class, a +1 size bonus on attack rolls, a +4 size bonus on Hide checks, and take a -4 penalty to grapple checks. They must use smaller weapons, however, and their lifting and carrying capacity is three-quarters that of a medium character.
  • Fey Type: A Sheevra is a fey, not a humanoid. This changes how spells and abilities affect her.
  • Sheevra base land speed is 20 feet. They can fly at a speed of 30 feet (good maneuverability).
  • Spell-Like Abilities: 3/day - Dancing Lights, Prestidigitation, Ghost Sound, as cast by a sorcerer of the sheevra's character level. A sheevra with a charisma score of 15 or higher can also use Mirror Image once per day.
  • Low-Light Vision: Sheevra can see twice as far as a human in starlight, moonlight, torchlight, and similar conditions of poor illumination. They retain the ability to distinguish color and detail under these conditions.
  • +2 racial bonus on saves against spells and spell-like effects.
  • +2 racial bonus on Perception checks.
  • Iron Sensitivity: Sheevra have an innate aversion to iron, which is poisonous to them. When struck with an iron weapon, a sheevra takes an additional 1 point of damage. Furthermore, she takes a -1 penalty to attack rolls made with iron weapons. This aversion includes weapons made primarily of iron, such as cold iron and steel weapons. If the sheevra, for whatever reason, dons iron armor, the -1 penalty extends to saves and checks as well as attack rolls. The penalty for wielding an iron weapon and wearing iron armor are cumulative.
  • Automatic Languages: Common and either Seelie or Unseelie.
  • Favored Class: Druid. A multiclass sheevra's druid class does not count when determining whether she takes an experience point penalty for multiclassing.
Design Theory: This was my more conservative attempt. I assumed the net -2 to the abilities and the iron sensitivity balanced out the advantages they enjoy from flight. I have heard varying opinions regarding the sheevra, ranging from "I want to play one" to "they're so underpowered." This makes me think they're probably right where they need to be, since I hear that about Player's Handbook races, too. Tips?

Yeenash
The yeenash are a race of shapeshifters similar to were-creatures, but less predominantly evil. While in humanoid form, they retain obvious features of their animal form, such as wings, tails, and striped markings. Each one has a special shifter class related to their animal form, but I wanted to balance them independently of their racial class so as to make them possible for other classes. These are the major sticking points, because they are more liberally penalized. Here's the bat (the others are either irrelevantly ground-based or more of the same).
  • -4 Strength, +2 Dexterity, -4 Constitution
  • Medium: As medium creatures, yeenash have no special bonuses or penalties due to size.
  • Yeenash base land speed is 30 feet. They can also fly at their base land speed, with average maneuverability.
  • Shapechanger: All yeenash have the shapechanger subtype.
  • Blindsense: A chiroptic yeenash automatically senses the presence and location of any creature within 10 feet. This ability does not grant precise information, and so the yeenash still suffers the normal penalties for attacking a creature he cannot see. Blindsense is based on hearing, and is lost if the yeenash is deafened.
  • +2 racial bonus to Perception checks. This bonus is lost if Blindsense is lost.
  • Low-Light Vision: Yeenash can see twice as far as a human in starlight, moonlight, torchlight, and similar conditions of poor illumination. They retain the ability to distinguish color and detail under these conditions.
  • Alternate Form: A chiroptic yeenash may assume the form of a small bat as a standard action. This is a supernatural ability. Unless the character has levels of the appropriate yeenash class (Bat, in the case of a chiroptic yeenash), changing shape does not grant any abilities of a bat beyond what the yeenash already possesses. It does grant a +10 racial bonus on Disguise checks made to impersonate a bat, however. Because this ability is of limited use, most chiroptic yeenash choose to take levels of bat in order to gain the full abilities of their secondary form. Shifting back to human form is a standard action, and occurs automatically if the yeenash is slain.
  • Automatic Languages: Common and Yeenash.
  • Favored Class: Bat. A multiclass yeenash's bat class does not count when determining whether he takes an experience point penalty for multiclassing.
Design Theory: As you can see, I took flight capability to be equivalent to a -6. I'm thinking that the bat is a bit over-penalized. Thoughts? Perhaps something else I can do unrelated to the stats themselves to balance this out?
Comments 
6th-Jan-2010 01:14 pm (UTC)
Think of this another way. Since flying is an important part of the setting races without flight or wings are hindered. Instead of nerfing flight (which I never felt was worth a whole +1 LA anyway) give non flight races something to balance it out, like an extra feat or some unique skill or bonus.
6th-Jan-2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
I second this notion. I think you need to ask yourself: "Am I expecting the PCs to be able to fly and so have a game that takes place in the air, or am I expecting the PCs to not be able to fly and so the game taking place in the air makes it a danger". Both are perfectly valid, but you need to decide which is the baseline you want to go with.

If you want flight to be the norm, then bump the non-flying races (possibly by giving them a way to get limited flight powers, or to be able to participate in the flight-based game). If you want flight to be a serious advantage, then make it hard to get (or even unavailable) to enable that.

So the question is: how much do you want the PCs to be flying in this setting? Do what you can to make sure that flight and non-flight PCs can play the same game :)
6th-Jan-2010 10:45 pm (UTC)
Only two the sheevra and two subspecies of the yeenash can fly. All others cannot. I did consider that perhaps it's not really possible to get an LA +0 race with flight in this setting.
6th-Jan-2010 10:51 pm (UTC)
Well as always, check the Raptorian (Races of the Wild) for how to make a +0LA flying creature. Basically you give them glide at level 1, which upgrades to flight around level 6 or so. That way they aren't particularly more mobile than other PCs (since around level 6 wizards get fly and then everyone can do it anyway).
6th-Jan-2010 11:05 pm (UTC)
I've never heard of that... I will definitely check it out! That sounds quite useful.
6th-Jan-2010 01:17 pm (UTC)
I see the word "Perception" there, but I also see the word "Hide". Are you balancing it for Pathfinder or D&D 3.5? A -4 compared to the PF base races for flight (good) is probably around okay, a -10 is outright horrible and WAY underpowered.

Part of the problem though is that you gave each them TWO abilities that aren't easily balanced - they have flight and they aren't humanoids (meaning X Person spells do not function against them).
6th-Jan-2010 10:48 pm (UTC)
I am doing 3.5, except I liked Pathfinder's idea of combining certain skills into one.

You're right, the fey does complicate things, but I was hoping to make that the sheevra's selling point. Also, the yeenash are still humanoid, they just have an additional subtype. It does nothing for them except make them vulnerable to shapechanger bane weapons.
6th-Jan-2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
^--Good suggestions.

I'll go ahead and suggest that if you want the other non-flying races not to be so totally screwed in such a locale, give them a helping hand in the form of innate feather fall, or limited levitation. It isn't flight, but it can negate the possibility of death by rolling out of your bed and plummeting to Earth.
6th-Jan-2010 05:32 pm (UTC)
The Races:

Sheevra:
  • They're not "lightning fast". They move at 30. (I can't imagine why a Sheevra would ever walk anywhere.)
  • Well, let's come up with a reason for them to walk. Given they need to flutter their wings to fly, I'd restrict them to light armor --with a bare back-- and light or medium encumbrance if they want to fly. With their reduced Strength and small weapons, you're probably not going to see many Sheevra Fighters or Paladins anyway, so this isn't going to be an enormous burden.
  • What determines the caster level when Sheevra cast their spell-like abilities?
  • Exactly how common are iron weapons? Are the floating islands tall enough to have iron deposits? Is there a foating mountain, made entirely out of iron, home to a race of fey-hating goblins?
  • Under "iron sensitivity", if a Sheevra wears iron armor but does not use an iron weapon, what are the penalties she suffers?


Chiroptic Yeenash:
  • Do Barbarian and Monk Yeenash, whose base land speed increases, increase their flying speed as well?
  • I'll repeat my comments on restricting flight. If a humanoid with bat wings is trying to fly, she shouldn't be wearing plate armor. And with that severe a hit to her Strength score, she won't be carrying much.
  • Given that echolocation is something bats turn on and off, could you say that the Blindsense extraordinary ability requres a move action?
  • The bat people have better eyesight than humans? +2 to Spot and Low-light Vision? "Blind as a bat" is a compliment, I guess. I'd recommend giving them something like a "low-light vision" version of hearing instead. And they might take extra damage from sonic attacks.
  • Do you mean a Capital-S-Small bat (which is really big for a bat) or a small bat (likely to be Tiny)?
  • Can Chiroptic Yeenash speak to one another without anyone else being able to hear?


The Issues of Living Above the Clouds:

If it's a very long way down, as in miles until something falling from the sky islands impacts the ground, then feather fall doesn't have much impact on game play. The fallen character is still stuck out of the campaign for a while.

Why don't people live on the surface?

[Whimsical Aside - The term "fallen" makes me imagine the planetary surface way down there as being molten and sulfuric, like a planet-wide open volcano. (That's what produces the atmospheric gasses that allow for the floating islands.) Living in the magma are malevolent undead spirits that attempt to possess the bodies of anyone who comes too close. So the people who explore "down there" often come back as wicked and murderous. Since most of the Fallen who return to menace their old friends are slain on sight, and since clerics channelling positive energy can affect the possessing spirits, people commonly consider the Fallen to be undead themselves.

Most cultures have strict taboos against diving too low. Others, notably the Morehl, or "lava elves", treat possession as one of the hazards of investigating the lowlands, and ritual preparations, defenses, and exorcist cures are routine.]

Researching something else, I was surprised to learn that, until recent centuries, most Europeans didn't know how to swim. Most sailors didn't know how to swim. If you fell overboard, you either got rescued as you dog-paddled in the sea, or else you drowned.

Your campaign setting is a lot like that. If a character falls overboard on his dirigible-ship, his buddies need to throw him a lifeline within a few seconds, or else he's a goner. So I'm imagining that you'd want some way for the PCs to stay afloat when they suddenly find themselves without anything to stand on.

I'd recommend some way to "tread air", using whatever magic keeps the islands floating. It would require a full-round action, and it would require a Strength check each round, with a DC based on the character's encumbrance.
6th-Jan-2010 11:20 pm (UTC)
They're not "lightning fast". They move at 30. (I can't imagine why a Sheevra would ever walk anywhere.)
That was a reference to their dexterity bonus, but I see what you mean. :P
Well, let's come up with a reason for them to walk. Given they need to flutter their wings to fly, I'd restrict them to light armor --with a bare back-- and light or medium encumbrance if they want to fly. With their reduced Strength and small weapons, you're probably not going to see many Sheevra Fighters or Paladins anyway, so this isn't going to be an enormous burden.
Flying creatures are normally restricted to a light load. With strength penalties and the carrying capacity reduction from size, this will most certainly include most medium armors, as well.
What determines the caster level when Sheevra cast their spell-like abilities?
"As sorcerer" meant with charisma. I should probably specify the formula like the book does.
Exactly how common are iron weapons? Are the floating islands tall enough to have iron deposits? Is there a foating mountain, made entirely out of iron, home to a race of fey-hating goblins?
The islands themselves are a conglomerate of chunks of metals and stone. They can contain iron. Steel weapons are standard, which are 98-99% iron.
Under "iron sensitivity", if a Sheevra wears iron armor but does not use an iron weapon, what are the penalties she suffers?
Huh. I didn't really word that as well as I thought I did. Iron armor gives a -1 morale penalty to all attack rolls, saves, and checks. It stacks with any penalties for wielding an iron weapon.

Do Barbarian and Monk Yeenash, whose base land speed increases, increase their flying speed as well?
Yes. Feats such as Dash were the reason I made it dependent on speed and not a flat number. This was probably a bad idea.
Given that echolocation is something bats turn on and off, could you say that the Blindsense extraordinary ability requres a move action?
I guess I could. I copied it from the bat entry, though, and it's a constant thing for a real bat.
The bat people have better eyesight than humans? +2 to Spot and Low-light Vision? "Blind as a bat" is a compliment, I guess. I'd recommend giving them something like a "low-light vision" version of hearing instead. And they might take extra damage from sonic attacks.
There's the problem with copying things directly over. Did you know bats have a +4 to spot even without blindsense? Anyways, I figured they had similar eyesight to a human, but had it augmented by their echolocation as well, granting them a +2 bonus.
Do you mean a Capital-S-Small bat (which is really big for a bat) or a small bat (likely to be Tiny)?
I meant small as a size category. It's fairly obvious that a yeenash in animal form is not a normal bat. (A small bat would be Fine).
Can Chiroptic Yeenash speak to one another without anyone else being able to hear?
I never actually considered this. I would assume no, not any more than anything else with a good listen check. They do have their own language, though.


Your rant was kinda neat, actually.

I probably should have specified that the reason no one lives on the surface is because Aether, the planet, lacks one. It's a gaseous planet. Looks like Neptune and if I remember my calculations correctly, it's approximately the same size. The islands can be big, though, and the airships are designed with certain doom in mind, so I don't actually think falling will be such a huge issue. I could probably design some kind of net-crossbow that can be used to rescue an overboard ally.
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