Magical Mondays: Putting Prestige Into Prestige Classes   Leave a comment

We’re going to look at d20 rules today on Magical Mondays, specifically as they relate to D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder world building. The example prestige classes given in the many books from 3.5 didn’t always give prestige classes in their original, intended use. Many prestige classes were created to fill a specific role in their world, to act as a way that magic worked differently in very specific examples. As a few examples…

Are your players going to be encountering a cadre of magicians who guard a bell tower that’s been constructed at a set of ley lines? Then you, as a GM, have an opportunity to create a prestige class that examines the culture and capabilities of those magicians by creating the Tintinnabulist, a prestige class devoted to the magic of ringing, chiming, and sonic vibrations mechanically, but tied to the protection of magical ley lines that enhance the powers of their cantadels across the land. Is a family of mages known for the delicious apples and potent cider that comes from their orchard? Create the Maplewood Mage, named for the Maplewood Orchard, and give the class abilities that seem harmless at first but eventually reveal their sinister nature (the fermentability of apples might be a perfect excuse for a mind fog spell at a frequent rate, and don’t forget that all apples contain cyanide…)

I don’t blame the people at Wizards of the Coast or Paizo for how prestige classes appear in their products. They don’t know how your campaign world looks, and as such each of their prestige classes has to be genericized to the point that it just seems like a common style of magic found anywhere. The strength of the prestige class is in how customizable it’s supposed to be, but unfortunately the ones in the books can’t show you that. They tried a few times… the Red Wizard in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, for instance, is specifically tied to the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, and we’re told that the Bear Warrior class came from one of their employees’ games… but for the most part, we can’t see where all these classes came from. (And some of them might well have just been created for the sake of creating a new class.)

Fortunately, the “customizable ability” motivation for prestige class creation has been nullified a bit in Pathfinder; people who want to do that kind of thing are encouraged to use archetypes instead, through execution and practice if not through design. This means that the world-building utility of prestige classes is back on the table in Pathfinder! And for GMs in Dungeons and Dragons? You’re free to discover that this utility never actually left…

What follows is a hastily thrown together prestige class for my setting of Cantadel. I have a place in my campaign setting for these figures, mundane fighters trained to protect their charge against even magical attacks.  I called them a number of things… spellwardens most often… but what I ultimately called them was Ferrous Defenders.


Level Base Attack Bonus Fort Save Ref Save Will Save Special
1st +0 +2 +0 +2 Martial Counterspell, Pseudospells
2nd +1 +3 +0 +3 Readied Reflection
3rd +2 +3 +1 +3 Maelstrom Shaping
4th +3 +4 +1 +4 Concealing Sacrifice
5th +3 +4 +1 +4 Readied Efficiency


I’m still not quite sure what skills to give it (though Spellcraft is a definite must), and I’m torn on the hit die (I’m leaning toward d6, but you could make the argument for d8 since it’s a class defined by survivability) but that’s the gist of it.

Now, how does this fit in to Cantadel’s lore? Easily.  Imperial Ferrous Defenders (though “Ferrous Defenders” might be sufficient for some scenarios) are imperial guards in the service of the Falcon Queen, one of my setting’s antagonists (“villain” is a strong word, as her motives, while underhanded, are rarely malicious.)  The Ferrous Defenders are a group of guards that have defended the head of state in her kingdom, modeled after a similar group in the empire of Thuzdek the Undying (another villain in my setting; and, yes, in his case villain is an appropriate word.)  Ferrous Defenders are a martial group of warriors who use mundane tasks to defend against spell casters.  They study magic and the practices of spellcraft, but they don’t know any magic themselves.  Whenever they are armed with a weapon made of cold iron (or even a reasonable implement made of cold iron, such as a rod or improvised fence post) they can perform the tasks in this prestige class.  By flourishing with their weaponry and combining rigid motions with sudden shifts, they can counter the spells of their enemies… and sometimes alter them.  Here’s what these abilities do:


Martial Counterspell (Ex): A Ferrous Defender may counterspell a spell being cast just as a mage may. With a successful Spellcraft check (DC 15 + the level of the spell being cast), a Ferrous Defender can identify a spell as it is being cast. The Ferrous Defender may then make a regular attack roll at his or her highest attack modifier while emulating an pseudospell (see below). If the pseudospell is appropriate and the attack roll is equal to or greater than the caster level of the spell being cast, the Ferrous Defender creates an eldritch wave of energy that counters the spell as it is cast.
Pseudospells (Ex): A Ferrous Defender knows a number of Pseudospells. A Pseudospell is usually a placeholder for a broad form of magic such as a school (like evocation or conjuration) or a descriptor (such as fire or compulsion). Each Pseudospell has a level, as a regular spell does. A Ferrous Defender knows a number of Pseudospells as a Sorcerer (treating the Ferrous Defender’s Base Attack Bonus as the effective Sorcerer level.) A Pseudospell can only counter a spell of equal level or lower to itself, and only if it’s a spell of the same school or same descriptor (or a diametrically opposed descriptor, such as good/evil, earth/air, fire/cold, fire/water, etc.)

Level 2
Readied Reflection (Ex): If a Ferrous Defender identifies a spell as one that will produce a ray or a line effect, the Ferrous Defender may choose not to counter the spell but, instead, to reflect it in another direction (including back at the caster who cast the spell.) The area of the line or range of the ray is recalculated to start from the Ferrous Defender’s position, but is reduced to account for the distance the spell has already traveled. Anyone affected by a line before it reached the Ferrous Defender is unaffected if it moves back through their area if they successfully saved against it the first time; they are entitled to another save when it moves back through their area if they didn’t successfully save the first time. The Ferrous Defender is treated as the caster of the spell after deflecting it in this manner.

Level 3
Maelstrom Shaping (Ex): If a Ferrous Defender identifies a spell as one that will have an area in the form of an Emanation or Spread, the Ferrous Defender may, if the area of the spell touches the Ferrous Defender’s space, use a complicated sequence of maneuvers to pull the entirety of the effect toward them and in another direction as an alternative to countering the spell. The spell effectively becomes two lines, one heading toward the Ferrous Defender, and one heading away with a total distance equal to the number of spaces that the spell would have taken up regularly. The Ferrous Defender is treated as being in the spell’s area of effect, but also as having successfully saved against the spell.

Level 4
Concealing Sacrifice (Ex): If the Ferrous Defender determines that a spell being cast is a Burst spell, the Ferrous Defender may leap upon the point of origin of the spell (assuming that the spell is within the Ferrous Defender movement range) and contain the point of origin of the spell within him or herself as an alternative to countering the spell. The Ferrous Defender will provide concealment for everyone within range of the Burst, but will take the full effect of the spell as if it had been Empowered as through the Empower Spell metamagic feat. The Ferrous Defender may make a fortitude or will save to resist the effects if those saves are appropriate to the spell, but not a reflex save.

Level 5
Readied Efficiency (Ex): At fifth level, the Ferrous Defender is able to fully combine his or her martial techniques with counterspelling techniques. If a Ferrous Defender has multiple attacks available, the Ferrous Defender may attempt to counterspell once per attack (though each extra attack is reduced as usual for multiple attacks in a round.)

The Ferrous Defender prestige class is a staple of the Falcon Queen’s royal guard, and any interaction that PCs have when dealing with the Falcon Queen will likely involve them.  On the story side of things, this prestige class explains why the kingdom of the Falcon Queen, a largely unmagical location, has been able to hold its own against other nations that rely heavily on magic for warfare.  While this nation doesn’t have many mages, it does have a number of guards who can deal with almost any spellcaster who’ll attack alongside a trained army squadron.

I want to point out the fourth level ability: that ability could, in some eyes, be a liability.  A PC may be hesitant to take this class because of the fact that it’s an ability that only works if you’re willing to throw yourself upon the thaumaturgic grenade, so to speak.  When designing a prestige class, it’s important to remember that while all the abilities should be fun, it’s not crucial to make all the abilities things built for making the class the most powerful ever.  You should always make the decision about taking the prestige class’ next level or a level in a base class a bit of a challenge.

I have some other prestige classes that I might show in the future, but for now that’s all for this week’s Magical Mondays.  Feel free to explain why my prestige class is horribly imbalanced in the comments below and, perhaps, I’ll revisit it some day.  Take care!


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