My Name is Rob, and I am a amateur writer and gamer. I write blogs about pretty much everything under the sun from video-games, to tabletop rpgs, to old TV shows. My common online Alias is Necroscourge, and I subscribe to quite a lot of betas. I am also the Admin of the New World of Darkness Roleplaying Website Jagged Shadows
I'll go into this rather quickly by saying that I am not the easiest person to "scare". As a rational, intelligent human being games and movies simply don't frighten me. Which is why I like watching irrational, unintelligent human beings scream their little heads off on youtube playing the new resident evil and dead rising games despite how very not scary they tend to be. Creepy? At times yes, but Scary? Hell no.
We owe part of this to the rising level of intelligence in the world. As our minds file things under "not-real" and realize the exact purposes and phenomena involved in the stimulus that is meant to cause fear the brain makes quick judgements on reaction. This is the reason jump-scares and "screamers" have the effect they do, in surprising and confusing the mind. Since the stimuli is sudden and difficult to forsee; someone unfamiliar with such tactics would likely react in fear. A person familiar with skeletons jumping out will be more likely not be too surprised if one does while your standard console shooter player would violently empty his bowels.
Let us take such writers as Edgar Allen Poe. His writings were considered fairly scary in a time where humanity knew very little about the mechanics of the world and what was or was not real. Since we empirically know such creatures as Zombies and Demons are decidedly not real (that we know of) it's fairly easy to regard them as not frightening.
Being unpredictable is a key factor in being frightening. Hence why most people are completely desensitized to the concept of the living dead walking, because of the recent complete explosion in zombie culture. One bite and it is realistically over as the virus shuts down your vital systems and leaves you a husk while many games and TV shows make it seem like if you get bitten you can just squirt some goo on your wound and bandage up. Realizing how deadly your adversary is however is not the same as not considering them a threat. Knowing what I just told/reminded you, would you really want to run out of your house and start running at zombies with nothing but a machete? Well, if you wanted to die, yes.
Just because you know what a creature can do does not mean you can't be scared of it, as anybody that cares for angry flesh eating animals can tell you. The issue of fear comes up once the creature is on the same side of the glass window as you are, and hungry. Which brings into play another important variable.
Part of what made older Survival Horror games frightening was ammunition and weapon availability. You are going to be much more worried about a thing you cannot kill. Nowadays it is heavily frowned upon in games to not give you a steady supply of ammo, or to present creatures too difficult to kill. However, just because you cannot kill something does not make it scary either. If your only option is to just run away every time you see a certain creature you suddenly don't regard it as very scary since you know exactly what to do in order to evade it.
A good example of zombies done right would be Project Zomboid. They are a legitimate threat if they get close to you and bunch up. And they will. yes you can run from them but eventually they will find you again. It's only a matter of time. You can't stop them, only delay the inevitable. If anything that is an interesting conclusion. Roguelike horror games? That is a genre that has quite a lot of potential.
Horror as a genre is not meant to pull punches or "let the good guy win", in many good horror movies the solution is very hard fought to achieve. The enemies are difficult to put down and there is quite a lot at stake. Revitalizing these ideals could prove quite interesting if applied to an roguelike game as Project Zomboid has proven. In roguelikes, your expected to die anyway, in a horror roguelike, that changes to expecting to die a grim, bloody, terrible death. Sign me up.
If there was ever a genre that I had to ask myself why it never caught on, it's god games. I loved the original Black and White, it was a pretty amazing game at the time. But if there was ever a game that was close to my heart, it is Populous 3: The Beginning. I played it throughout my childhood, being a game that was simple enough for me to understand at the time that I really enjoyed yet was not the first real game I beat fairly (DK2 is the first PC game that I remember completely beating) but damnit, there's a reason. That game was not fucking around!
It may look harmless. You may even be thinking that the game resembled the first two populous games in that the majority of the game was terraforming. But there is a catch. You see, unlike the last two games you are actually not a god; you are the Shaman. The one female of the tribe and you alone wield the might of your ancestors. In fact, I could probably argue P3 may be the first RTS with a hero unit.
The Shaman is a spellcaster, and your tribe is composed of Braves, which can gather wood and build structures. You could send the Braves into huts to make Mana for spells or train them to be specialists such as warriors or preachers. That mana is used to prepare charges of various unlocked spells from a simple fireball to unleashing demons from the darkest pits of hell upon the world. Friendly fires on too. You let loose a tornado in a fight and you will see both sides taking flying lessons. There in lies the games difficulty, is that up to four Shamans in a level means four people walk that planet with divine magic.
You could be setting up your village and suddenly be watching it sink into the water. A volcano could erupt under your shamans skirt. Three tornadoes and swarms of locusts could appear magically within your town and once they are there you need to wait them out. Of course, turnabout is fair play. Nothings stopping you besides death itself from waltzing up to their town gate and letting loose the same havoc right on them.
The combat system in populous represents a massive brawl. Characters push and shove eachother in attempts to knock them into the water, Preachers try to convert enemies, and Populous 3 let you have an impressive number of townspeople. And among these huge brawls are the spells both sides of the conflict are letting loose.
Another thing: For a game from the 90's it was pretty. The special effects were flashy, the grass on the terrain died as characters stomped over it, and when you watched two Shamans and their tribes clashing you were instantly sucked into the world as you watched the chaos ensue. Trying to micromanage the fight was impossible, the best you could do was move your shaman around and fling spells as your tribe did what they do best, fighting and tearing apart structures.
People wanted an XCOM remake for so long, yet when they get a good one they cry and complain. Atleast your favorite franchise is getting one dude, Populous is one of those series Bullfrog left in oblivion when they disbanded. There are plenty of great games from the 90's that never got the recognition they deserved. XCOM got a second chance in being picked up by a company that has proven they care about the franchise. Instead of that not-XCOM game made by that company that does the generic shooting games.
As a 90's child I fondly remember Dungeon Keeper 2. DK2 was one of the first games that as a young child armed with cheatcodes I decided to beat fair and square. I was amazingly interested in the game and played it well, because I understood the concepts behind it. A multiplayer game of DK2 revolved around balancing your economy better and actively training your employee's faster than the competition can. This concept tends to go over most "casual" and FPS gamers that are used to playing games without utilizing the tactics and strategy required and having limited problems.
This same principal applies to most base-management strategy games such as Startopia, Dungeons: The Dark Lord, Supreme Commander, Halo Wars and much much more. These games end up resembling a samurai duel, with a quick decisive strike sealing or preventing victory. A intelligent strategy game veteran with any success in playing these games could easily tell you this, or subconsciously understands this ideal. However, the issue arises when the unwashed masses of flash gaming websites get their hands on a strategy title.
The Battle of Undermountain is a Real-Time Strategy Game with implied Tower Defense Elements. While it's hard to ever consider the game a proper Tower Defense title that's easily to the games credit, it does not try to copy/paste a generic tower defense game into the mechanics but uses them like a old traditional RTS would incorporating mechanics you would see in similar dungeon construction titles .
The game also tries to behave like an indirect-control management game such as the Majesty Series and Evil Genius but fails to understand the basic mechanics that make a concept like that actually work, such as individual AI. In Majesty and games of it's like all characters have a defined general set of laws for behavior, for example in Startopia every Alien had jobs only they would do, and behaved with other residents in a certain way, as well as change their behavior according to the individuals current needs.
This is simplified in Undermountain by completely disregarding this basic mechanic and simplifying character AI to either make an instant beeline for the closest reachable enemy, or make a beeline for the closest reachable gold pile/tagged block, or patrol when there is nothing to collect/attack that can be reached. The very second something within the players sight appears every unit that can react will immediately set course to perform it's duty with no individual character or concern for their own safety. It's pretty jarring since the game is clearly in tribute to the great management games of the late 90's.
And that issue is easily where the game's ideas are betrayed by it's application as well as somewhat betrayed by the game's base management design. The only parts of the map that can be dug out are randomly dispersed blocks of clay and gold among impossible to mine rock in it's own chaotic patterns. That's strange considering this game is once again in tribute to games where the main appeal is to create your area as you see fit within a large area instead of being confined to basic linear corridors. The likely reason is because of how base construction works in Undermountain.
Gold Stashes and Farms can be walked over, and serve as points your characters must routinely return to in order to deposit gold or eat. In contrast Bases, and Housing cause squares nearby to turn into "road" tiles in order to limit the areas you can place the building. Towers however do not cause roads to appear and will attack foes two tiles away doing a meager amount of damage. I can also understand the reasoning for this, to keep focus on the characters. However towers end up costing as much as a Dwarf Warrior, having nowhere near the usefulness of one. There are only a couple missions in single-player that actually call for the use of towers, and once again besides serving as defense against enemy miners straying into your base there is almost no reason to actually use them.
The game has both a Multiplayer randomized battle mode of play as well as a short singleplayer campaign designed to teach the player through trial and error how to play the game. Each has a very simple goal and linear solution. The multiplayer maps are all randomized jumbles, with no finesse or logic to the placements of rock and tiles that can be mined where the easiest method of victory is after your initial setup simply spam warriors and decimate the enemy once you meet in battle. Since units can stack on-top of eachother any sense of actual strategy that a game like this usually has in multiplayer is instantly vanished, leaving the game to be boring and without fine thought.
At the end of the day, Undermountains biggest problem as it currently is (1.0.2) is the lack of anything besides the original setup of an indirect control game. The games AI is terrible, the only way to beat many of the games levels is to simply block your castle off and make as many warriors as you can with the limited money available in the map and finally releasing them when you can't find another scrap of coin. According to the games menus it is possible to play as a giant ant colony and as giant worms, however I could not find a way to play as these two factions in either single or multi mode as I believe despite the game using a version number that implies the game is finished the game is not actually done evidenced by the unplayable factions and the "To be continued" upon beating the last mission.
What Undermountain needs is to give each of the games faction unique gameplay as well as giving the individual units some more personality and real AI. A real Dwarf Warrior would not blunder into battle the second he senses a foe but patrol around to collect petty coins. The Ants possibly swarming around and killing wildlife and dwarves for food to afford stronger ants. But all I know is I can never take a game seriously when it suggests giant monsters build their own bases. But the current way the game is very painfully reminds me of how much wasted potential the game has, but as it stands the game is many things but nowhere near actually finished. Unfortunate, for a second I thought we finally had a spiritual sequel to Dungeon Keeper.
I never quite understood why so many developers are lazy enough to just remake games instead of making new original properties. The last original thing I heard of in the Call of Duty series was introducing First Person Shooter mechanics into the first game. Remaking old games is all Kalypso ever seems to do anymore and Blizzard has not introduced an actual new IP since the 90's.
Thankfully, times are changing. The last few years have marked a change in tides that has been in the works and hopes for a long time; the rise of Indie Gaming. True, Indie Games are nothing new but ten years ago if you were a game designer, you worked for a corporation. Nowadays we have been able to fully break the mold and make the games we never could make before.
The Indie games movement has done what very few companies feel comfortable in doing: Acting like real game developers and coming up with new ideas. Creating amazing new worlds for the imagination with interesting new mechanics to play with. For a long time the RTS scene looked just about dead, with everything coming about as original as the repackaged Call of Modern Gears of Honor games that came one after the other.
It is actually kind of simple. You see, how corporations think is they take an IP and cater it towards a Genre, which is thought of as black and white and cannot be built or expanded upon at all. Real game designers seek out to expand and construct new worlds and mechanics to use. It comes to no surprise how the mass-produced Moba games which we can attribute the online game revolution to are all stolen from an original idea (A indie-made custom map on Warcraft 3).
I find that amazingly interesting however. Remember when the original big name shooters appeared and everybody started copying them in mass? That is basically what is happening to the MOBA genre, only instead of the same three-four games being remade being shooting games they are team action games. Which proves a very important point: A majority of game companies act in trend and are afraid of originating new ideas. This is pretty much the third time something like this has happened. First it happened in the late 90's with RTS games following Starcraft, which infamously ingrained a generic template of RTS games that is obeyed by uninspired designers to this day. Then it happened with shooters ingraining a similar template, and now a template for MOBA games is forming. We must break these templates if we are going to bring back creativity.
The template I am specifically mentioning is the concept of the Tournament RTS, which are strategic games closely based on Blizzard RTS structure and has been copied hundreds of times.
*Three Races (All Rounder, Spammer, Powerhouse)
*Buildings constructed to unlock new tech and make units
*Population camp raised by supply buildings
*Closely Symmetrical Maps
*Tiered tech tree
*Focus on using unbalanced units and basic tactics(Attacks/Diversions)
The focus of such Tournament games is usually to secure the most resources you can as quickly as possible, attempting to keep stronger units in your possession in order to cripple your foe. These games are normally based on reflexes and require little in the way of actual strategic thought but really requires nothing more than practice and basic understanding of psychology.
This template and genre exists because of how popular the games produced in that genre are to a wide audience. I can understand why MOBA's have become popular because of the mass public's prior shunning of proper strategy games. Though what I don't understand is why we cannot innovate on our own and forge our own genres as Indie Developers. In reality imagination is the only thing required. But the point remains that entertainment should never be reduced to a formula, it must be built upon.
A good example is an old german-made Strategy Simulation named The Guild 2 where you play as a land-owner and set up businesses of both legal and illegal. You need to get married, use goons to trouble other players, and play the political system in order to pull ahead of the competition. While the game itself was actually fairly buggy the concepts it introduced as a strategy game were rather interesting. Competitive diplomacy is what makes games like Civ 5 and 4X games rather interesting in multiplayer as well and made games of Guild 2 intriguing, seeing who would stab your back and when.
My curiosity is seeing a modern take on such a game, controlling mooks and establishing businesses. Sure, games like Gangland existed but due to bugs and poor design choices the games quickly fell into obscurity. These "City Control" games focus on slower, strategic thinking as well as diplomatic control.
City Control RTS *Each team has HQ, which can be fortified and acts as the players home.
*Each player has an Avatar/Hero character, but may hire additional thugs and goons.
*Characters all possess a Loyalty to a specific side, but some characters can disguise themselves as other teams in order to infiltrate organizations.
*Player avatar can leave HQ and can enter buildings to interact with them, and can interact with other characters
*Plots of land can be purchased and then built upon, buildings attract tenants, staff, and business.
*Characters like groups of thugs or officers can be hired from your buildings if the character is resting there and available for hire.
*Diplomatic ratings with other players and with the local government. Causing firefights and bad press will anger the government and lead to more police hostilities and raids.
* Players can hold Titles of Office, and can apply for titles they meet the requirements for. Titles give political benefits and allow the use of Government resources like police or investigators.
*Characters or Squads(Like Thugs) committing crimes are witnessed automatically by other characters with line of sight, and this can be reported for the authorities.
*Ran on dedicated servers, additional players can join any existing faction or can join as Neutral.
The concept is that by introducing elements the player can choose to navigate around like in-game police presence as well as requiring players to work together diplomatically will help organize the players into their roles easier and promote tactical thinking. There also carries the risk that the next player that joins your team could be an enemy spy leaking your plans and positions, perhaps even an assassin!
While I am not expecting that idea to get too far, the point I am trying to prove is that with a little creative thought its more than possible to come up with a working idea you can expand upon and plug more details into. Something most game designers sincerely lack the ability to do.
Last time I looked at Prestige Classes, that is to say, classes you can’t take at level one. These five classes are considered Base classes, in that it is possible to start in them. As those that read my last blog know, or that generally know what the Open Gaming License entailed, the era of the OGL was hilarious. Absolutely any way shape and form of life was documented for DnD. Grand adventures into hellish post-apocalyptic mines, Adventures to Constantinople, the ability to make a Kraken save versus death after one attack. As you saw this carried on to the characters careers, in a world where absolutely anything could happen it was perfectly rational that they could do pretty much anything they wanted such as heft harpoons or be fused into a giant mecha as its eternal pilot.
These five classes however represent the new guys. All of these classes are eligible for new players to start a game with. As with the Prestige classes before them, my choices are the ones that your old buddies would never bust out, or your snotty DM would never let you finish your pitch. Leave your logic at the door.
5. Two Fister (Pg 27-28 of Broncosaurus Rex)
In general, some of the classes in Broncosaurus rex are really not that good. The Two Fister however feels like the result of an argument in post production. “What do you mean our classes are not that special?!” “Well... they lack a lot of special rules and the numbers are not..” “Fine! You want special rules and high ass numbers?! I’ll make ya a class alright!” Enter the Two Fister.
As you may guess from the title of the class, the Two Fister does one thing extremely well. He punches people, and is very good at punching people. So good in fact he gets the Improved Unarmed Strike feat for free and by the end of his career does a whopping 1D20 damage per attack, has a BAB of +15/+10/+5, and an Unarmed Attack Bonus of +15/+12/+9/+6/+3 as well as a +30 to Gather Information checks in friendly lands.
And that’s it. Those are the only three interesting aspects of this class, the super high attack bonuses, super high damage output, and amazing skill bonus to one of the more useful skills. The worst part is at the end of the day a traditional Monk of the same level is infinitely better then a two-fister could ever be.
4. Steamborg (Pg 22-26 of Dragonmech Core)
When you have access to mechanized walker technology several things may happen. You might build a gigantic city walker. Or build your dog power-armor. Or as the consequence of getting extremely bored, embed a fist sized steam engine into your stomach and link it to your biological systems. Having chosen the latter you are now a Steamborg! As one, you can do all of the cool cybernetic things such as lopping your arms off in favor of mechanized chainsaw arms or replacing your legs with tank treads.
With this comes a few notable penalties. For one, you are drinking water for two now, you require three times the amount of water a person normally would require. Failure to drink enough causes your engine to futz up, which later in your career will cause various parts you stapled into yourself to stop working. Protip: Don’t replace your heart.
For two, you now have an exhaust pipe spewing waste attached to your body, and that pipe is exit-only. If for whatever reason you were to ignore my advice and submerge yourself in water or any other liquid/debris and got stuff in your engine you gotta unclog it. Anybody that has attended auto shop class or lives in the southern united states knows exactly why getting grit in your engine is a bad thing. But with the bad comes the oh so very good. As you systematically replace parts of weak flesh with perfect mechanized parts your AC and statistics will rise depending on what parts you snip off and replace. These parts also may have special steam powers or chainsaw bits attached to them. Why build a hot rod when you can BE the hot rod?
3. Mute (Pg 80-81 of Deadlands: Lost Colony)
Not all D20 supplements are based in fantasy realms. Deadlands is a far out Horror Wild West setting, and Lost Colony takes the setting to the next logical place. Space. As a Wild West Space person, you clearly need Wild West Spacey powers. So why don’t you sign on this dotted line and sell your sou- I mean... services to Hellstromme Industries.
The Hellstromme Industries Transmutationist, or simply put “Mute”, is the receptacle of millions of small nano-devices that can at will construct objects according to plans that the mute possesses and may create his own schematics by destroying similar objects and analyzing them. Most of these men and women were put into the program by the companies they work for, some were test subjects, and even less still were in the state of mind to do it willingly. These techno-wizards of the far out west are basically the only repairmen around so far out into space with no supplies to be found.
The ability to provide a service to your fellow man is more than a good enough reason to sign up with Hellstromme. Wait, when did you grow claws? What do you mean the class says nothing about it? Eh, it’s probably nothing. Besides, if you just inject some Tannis rock it goes right away see? No no sir, there are no hamster people around.
Deadlands is infamous as a setting for wrapping players in a very interesting but often confusing metaplot to the extent of giving a lot of major NPC’s plot armor in the hopes that GM’s will not try to have their own adventures but play a specific railed campaign in Deadlands. I dislike this practice because Players rarely figure out every single secret in the settings, and there are a LOT of secrets around. Lost Colony is no different. If you didn’t guess it already, being a mute IS too good to be true. I won’t spoil it for you, but there is a cost that you may not be prepared to pay. Please, keep drinking your kool-aid.
2. Velociraptor Warrior (Pg 20-21 of Complete Guide to Velociraptors)
Sometimes being a traditional race is for cowards. Why be a soft squishy hyoo-mon when you can be a mutha-truckin dinosaur? At first glance the class looks rather weak, only giving the raptor access to several free feats. That’s until you actually see the feats made for raptors. Then there is the fact that in order to be a proud Velociraptor warrior you must obviously be born of the Velociraptor persuasion which gives you a slew of stat bonuses and extra movement. The rules also treat you as a large creature (Which I call bullshit on) and gives up 4-40 extra HP for being a raptor. (Which I also call BS on)
This book is not Goodman games best work, but the camp value of playing a dinosaur is just too great. I am just sad that the Complete Guide to T-Rexes failed to provide T-Rex race and classes. There needs to be more books that let you play a huge creature that is absolutely broken. Though being a velociraptor is already pretty close second.
If you like being absolutely broken and chewing off the faces of every enemy the group encounters then being a dinosaur may be the right choice for you. If the Warrior does not appeal to you, there is also a Tactician(Stealth) and Shaman(Wooga-Booga) class available to you as a velociraptor, if you get tired of ripping the faces off of people. If you get bored of the raptor classes then your stats are jacked up so high because of your race that you could do basically anything else you wanted that does not include having thumbs. If you thought a raptor warrior was scary, wait until it starts blasting you with necromantic spells. In general Jurassic park would of been much more awesome if the raptors knew sorcery.
“Alright, what class are you picking?” “Velociraptor Shaman” “.....*glare*”
1. Athlete (Pg 135-138 of Xcrawl)
All of these classes do a good job explaining how batshit-insane the world of adventuring really is, with all of its nanobots, steam engines, and wooga booga. But what if the world was more or less exactly as it should be with a few... *ahem* Liberties taken with history. Xcrawl documents a Live TV Show of the same name loved by all of the country (or else) and a driving force behind the country's culture and identity. The Country? America of course! But not as it is now. You see, in Xcrawls story George Washington decided to turn the country into a roman empire-esque dictatorship. As a result we conquered Canada and Mexico in seconds and became the Great North American Empire.
Now we have the world of today with its roman architecture and steep mandates. Xcrawl is a popular dungeon-crawling sport born by the invention of Larping and made headlines when the Larpers accidentally were ambushed by ghouls and slayed them for real. The resulting press declared them heroes and a new death-sport was invented.
The Athlete is essentially a class designed to play sports. The class also specifically states you can choose *any* sport including Xcrawl itself. This means you could actually transplant the Athlete class into any modern game, as sports your character chooses and likes are much easier to play. Also, this represents the only class I have seen that starts with a proficiency in “Sports Weapons”. As in all Athletes are proficient in throwing baseballs, hitting people with aluminum bats, and wielding the mighty.... hockey stick. This is not only mentioned but these are actually all stated a few pages after the class. Underneath those lays the stats for Chainsaws in DnD (Exotic Melee, 3d8 Slashing Damage, x3 crit, weight 15. You’re welcome).
The class itself is actually not that bad, the Athlete gets plenty of bonus feats as well as those aforementioned bonus to all rolls pertaining to sports they play. They also may train a minimum of three hours a day for over six weeks to get a temporary +2 to a physical statistic of their choice as long as they keep their regimen up, which is actually a decent bonus. In a more roleplay heavy Modern game the Athlete could make a great addition to the party.
For those not experienced with D20/3.5, prestige classes are classes that have requirements and must be taken later in the character's career. The majority of such classes exist in Open Gaming License supplements put out by third party publishers. As a result, there never will be a shortage of classes that most people have never heard of yet are within the rules allowed to be taken by any character that fills the requirements no matter how strong they are.
It's very common practice for such supplements to provide base and prestige classes that are just normal classes fitted specifically for the setting, or producing character classes that are in most aspects not too fun to play or lack any creativity. These five classes presented are interesting enough for me to take interest in, and I would generally suggest any of them to a player wondering what prestige class to take.
5. Sacred Bander (pg 108-109 in Thieves World Player Book)
The Sacred Band are masters of organized tactical combat, and fight in pairs with their oathsworn partner in battle. While most examples of Sacred banders in the novels paint them as homosexual, it's made clear in the Sacred Band class description that this is actually not the case as both males and females may take up such an oath and the pair of banders need not actually be romantically engaged, though examples exist. The most interesting part of this class is that in order to take the class you are actually required to have somebody else in the party also have the Sacred Bander class and be your partner in battle.
The most fun that this class has to offer is the handful of mechanical benefits both Sacred Banders receive. For being adjacent to each other and being of higher levels the banders get bonuses such as being immune to flanking, AC and damage bonuses, even a bonus to medicine on their partner. My big issue with this class besides the fact you need two players, but that is easily the most entertaining aspect of the class as well.
But for a large high-level campaign the class is a perfect addition to the group and ensures that your forces can stand right in the front lines. The issue is besides the small teamwork bonuses, there is not much reason to pursue the high levels of the Sacred band. The last useful ability is gained at level 8, there is nothing too neat laying at level nine and ten.
4. Black Powder Avenger (Pg 20-22 in Ravenloft: Heroes of Light)
Of all of the prestige classes in Heroes of Light, The Avenger catches my eye because of simply how much raw utility power the class can provide. The master of firearms, BPAâ€™s may dedicate a single weapon with his vengeance to give it up to a +3 in attack and damage which likely stacks with any enhancement bonuses the weapon itself may of had already, but does not stack with special ammunition bonuses. In addition to five free firearm feats over his career the BPA also has the ability to fabricate his own ammunition and explosives for rather cheap, later being able to supply his friends with masterwork ammunition.
He eventually gains an apprentice that can carry his explosives and provide support fire as a cohort. Not many classes are given such a follower usually, but it is nice to know you if your powder monkey gets eaten you can train another one and eventually turn your cohort into a fellow full fledged Black Powder Avenger like yourself. The biggest drawback to this class, the requirement of reloading, is negated at level seven as the Avenger learns to reload as a move action. But the absolute best part of being an avenger comes at level nine with the ability to do a massive burst of damage at the expense of temporarily breaking your dedicated weapon. A critical with such a shot is easily enough to send most foes to their graves.
3. Assimilated (Pg 27-29 in Dragonmech Core)
Some mechanics get so deep into their respect to the great machine spirit that they decide to fuse themselves into the mech itself. Effectively, you are a Dreadnaught. The requirements for being Assimilated however are over-restrictive. The main issue is the set of skills you require, 10-15 ranks in four rare setting-specific skills are required, which is absurd for a prestige class. Two are knowledge which are not hard to get but in particular mecha piloting skill is needed at levels too high to be possible by only a rare handful of classes. In 3.5, the only feat I could find that would make this easier was Able Learner in Races of Destiny but if you donâ€™t get it at first level then you are boned.
But that hitch is just a matter of asking your GM if you can be overpowered, or taking levels in Mech Jockey. Then the obvious problem arises like where are you going to get a level 10 techpriest to help you connect you to the mech, and where you are going to get the mech you are going to be fused to. Which I admit is a pretty good way to restrict the class. But the requirement that makes me sad is that Assimilated are true or chaotic neutral and act like an impartial computer, the class itself only states non-lawful but in order to be assimilated you have to suffer from lost humanity and thus be rendered a neutral alignment anyway. It makes me so mad I want to exterminate, EXTERMINATE.
Once fused to your mech, your body shrivels and loses physical ability until you finally are fully in control of the mech you now will pilot for eternity. On the bright side, you also become an absolute monster in combat. Itâ€™s hard to argue with +15/+10/+5 as a large living construct. The letdown is once you take the plunge you cannot take levels in classes you cannot physically perform the duties of. This becomes mostly DM opinion, especially because the class claims you cannot be a fighter because you are physically incapable of fighting which I call foul on, your mech is fully capable of being fitted with a sword and shield and going to war in the name of the EMPRAH!
2. Ironbound (pg 32-33 in Hammer & Helm: Guidebook to Dwarves)
Like other powerful classes, itâ€™s way too easy to dismiss the Ironbound by its name and picture. The Ironbound is encased in the best of exotic dwarven armor and excels on the front lines as a defensive fighter. Ironbound get a few great bonuses most classes only dream of, for starters over the course of leveling as an Ironbound you get no less than five free proficiencies in Exotic armor types and an inherent AC bonus that stacks with your armor bonuses.
But what about the large amount of time it would take to sleep? Heavy armor is infamous for the amount of time it takes to get in and out of! Well, at level 3 you get so tired of climbing in and out of it that you learn to just get used to sleeping inside your armored home. At level 7, you get completely used to it. And not only can an Ironbound ready a shield as a free action once per turn but you can even dual wield them at level six. Why just use one tower shield when you can have one in your other hand too! You may waddle at .5 miles per hour but being damn near invincible is worth it.
1. Harpooner (Page 64-65 in Broadsides! Naval Adventuring by Living Imagination)
You are probably thinking the same most people think when finding out about this class. A Harpoon? How much damage could you possibly do with that? Surprisingly the Harpooner is not only the best class in the book but is the most open to interpretation class I have ever seen for one good reason: There is no standard stat-block for Harpoons. However the only hint given is that the Harpooner class requires both Weapon Focus and Exotic Training in Harpoons. The 3.5 Arms and Equipment guide lists it as a large D10 weapon that if pulled from a foe does the same amount of damage as when it went in and assumes the weapon is tied to rope held by the user. The Harpooner class has this same ability but gets a extra bit of backstab esque damage and can pull the harpoon free automatically as a standard action (It's never stated whether or not he can do this at range, but I assume he can). At level 7 the extra withdraw damage becomes a whopping +5D6 on top of effectively doubled initial damage
But it gets better. As any seasoned old school DnD Player will tell you, if the GM is sending you somewhere with water then you are going to be facing terrible gigantic underwater creatures he never gets to use otherwise. The Harpooner was clearly designed with this in mind and gets a +1 attack bonus for each level he has towards aquatic creatures of huge or larger size and at 10th level can spend a day to charge one harpoon with the ability to force any one aquatic beast to save versus death. This is made even more entertaining as the Broadsides book also lists an expensive magical Harpoon that gets the exact same effect and the class does not factor in if his imbuing ability stacks with such an harpoons effects. In short, this class is designed to take down Huge/Gigantic Sea Creatures with extreme prejudice but also operates as a dangerous ranged damage dealer regardless of what he is fighting.
As ten rank prestige classes go, The Harpooner is amazingly powerful and capable of doing immense damage. The classes requirements really are not too steep either, and as exotic weapons go the Harpoon really is not that hard to find in any setting where an ocean exists. Really any character with the right skill set for throwing a Harpoon should consider this class, especially if you know the GM owns lots of bestiaries that are bound to have aquatic monsters in it.