Thursday, May 18, 2023

3E OdditE: Hexer (Masters of the Wild, February 2002)

Click here to return to the OdditE archive.

Quick; what's your favorite NPC class?

Mine is the Adept.

For one, it's the only NPC class that gains any meaningful class features, besides maybe the Expert's ability to pick any 10 skills as class skills (and that's only as good as one's ability to enact broken skill shenanigans). Besides that, there's the flavor of it: adepts represent the many petty conjurers, witches, village healers, and other modestly magical people of the world who don't have the training or the suicidally adventurous urge that would allow them to take levels in "real" classes.

Even so, the Adept is a surprisingly serviceable class on its own. It has a small but reliable spell list that it can cast as a Cleric does up to 5th level, it gains a familiar at 2nd level, it has good Will saves, and while the class isn't proficient in any armor, it can wear armor without any penalties besides ACP. They are modestly good at what they're intended to do, and they aren't completely useless outside of that one role.

This makes them a Tier 4 class, which is actually on par with many PHB classes like Rogue, Barbarian, and Ranger. You could run an Adept in a low-power party and they'd fit right in as a sort of Great Value brand Cleric/Wizard. They might even outshine the Fighter or Monk if they're a little optimized. And if you use the Eberron version of the Adept that gives them 1 free Cleric domain, it's even better.

I love that quirk of the system. It makes the Adept feel like a bit of an underdog possessed of unexpected grit. Back in the day before we had multiple 3rd-party products devoted to playing peasants and commoners in way over their depth, the 3E Adept class gave me that same general feeling.

Which is why I was so surprised to find that they got their very own (at one point) bespoke prestige class in the form of the Hexer.

The Hexer

(digital copy of the class writeup courtesy of D&Dtools this time)

The Hexer PrC is from Masters of the Wild, a 3.0 book that mostly concerns itself with Barbarians, Druids, and Rangers. Most of the content of the book was updated to 3.5E, but a few items like the Hexer were never republished, leaving them in that position of still technically being playable despite having clear hallmarks of the older edition, like the Wilderness Lore skill instead of Survival.

The Hexer is portrayed as a spooky, often villainous user of the Evil Eye in its introductory fluff. They are stereotypical witches who use the power of their gaze to curse or enthrall their victims, and they are almost exclusively found among the "uncivilized" species of the world; orcs, gnolls, etc. I don't think I've ever seen another class with a snippet of in-universe gossip quoted in their writeup like the Hexer has:

“Do not meet the gaze of the shaman with the evil eye,” warn townsfolk who have crossed paths with a hexer.

The Hexer is a 10-level PrC that requires you to be any non-good alignment, be a member of one of the aforementioned monstrous species like primitive humanoids or giants, have Arcana 10, Spellcraft 8, and Wilderness Lore Survival 10, and to be able to cast lightning bolt as a divine spell.

The class requirements would be easy for almost any divine caster to meet by 7th level, except for the fact that lightning bolt was not on any divine spell list in the entire game at the time of publication- except for the Adept's. Thus, despite mentioning the Adept nowhere in the writeup, all Hexers needed to be Adepts... before certain other options presented themselves later on in 3E's lifecycle. More on that later.

Hexer offers d6 HD, B/B/G saves, no new proficiencies, Int+2 skill points for Concentration, Craft, Handle Animal, Heal, Knowledge, Profession, Spellcraft, and Survival, +1 to existing class's caster level every level, and a weirdly out-of-place but no less welcome full BAB progression. It doesn't make you much for melee combined with the lack of HP and proficiencies, but it can help you get deadly accurate with ranged touch spells like scorching ray.

But the real bread-and-butter of the class is its Hex (Sp) ability.

Hex is a Standard Action that allows the Hexer to use 1 automatic gaze attack per round for 1 round/level. It automatically affects a target within 30' without an attack roll, though the target does get a Will save, and they can avert their eyes or completely turn away to get a 50% or 100% miss chance (in return for granting the Hexer 20% or 50% concealment from their actions). The Hexer can use Hex once per day, topping out at 6/day at 10th level.

Hex's effects depend on which option you pick, and more options unlock at higher levels:

  • The basic Hex is identical to the 2nd option offered by a bestow curse spell; a permanent -4 penalty to a heap of different d20 rolls.
  • Sicken Hex (3rd level) requires a Fort save instead of Will, and results in 1/2 movement speed, loss of Dex to AC, and a -2 to attack rolls.
  • Fear Hex (5th level) functions as per the fear spell.
  • Sleep Hex (7th level) functions as per the sleep spell, except its duration is 10 minutes/level.
  • Charm Hex (9th level) functions as per the charm monster spell, except its duration is 1 day/level.

As you can see, there's a big disparity in usefulness between the different hexes. I can't see how Sleep Hex would ever be useful at the level a Hexer gets it, because there's no mention of the base spell's extremely low hit dice cap being modified or removed; the most you can do is nap one 4HD creature per turn, and that's not very good at 14th level unless your DM is still throwing waves of minions at you.

Fear has some crowd control use, though. And you could conceivably stack basic Hex and Sicken Hex to debuff the BBEG and their bodyguards- especially since they're permanent unless removed with a spell, meaning they'll still be cursed during a rematch. Charm is quite interesting, especially for its duration, but it's most useful in an out-of-combat situation. Of course, higher levels are when you start to see default immunity to enchantments and mind-affecting effects, so mileage might vary extremely.

The saving grace for Hex is that it only requires a standard action to activate the ability. For the rest of the duration, it costs no action economy to keep up. If you don't have more pressing things to start combat with, it's a nice thing to turn on and then just have running in the background for the rest of the encounter.

Bonus Spell is Hexer's other noteworthy ability, though it's more of a passive. Every 2nd level, you may add 1 spell from the Sorcerer/Wizard spell list to your own. That's 5 spells from what is widely regarded as the best list in the game, and a nice addition to your small but solid repertoire. Grab some encounter-negating utility spells, and maybe engage in some limited planar binding shenanigans.

All told, the Hexer is a niche option for an already niche class, but it's my kind of niche that could lead to a very entertaining and competent character grown from humble origins.

Of course, there are other means of qualifying for Hexer, as I alluded to. Ones that don't require you to spend 7+ levels in an NPC class.

MotW released in 2002, before 3.5E was even a thing, and the following years saw many other options for mixing arcane and divine spellcasting. These include straightforward examples like Shugenja, or Favored Soul that have lightning bolt in their lists, or more specific options like splatbook feats. I'll leave a link to a helpful handbook on GitP here if you want to browse those.

But the big one is Archivist from Heroes of Horror (October 2005). This Int-based divine caster prepares a prayerbook the same way a Wizard does a spellbook, and they can copy spells into it from any divine scroll they come across- including a lightning bolt scroll prepared by an Adept or any of the other classes mentioned above. Archivists make the Hexer even stronger, because they already have full 9th-level casting on top of other class abilities. The bonus arcane-to-divine spells just add to the sheer size and versatility of the spell list. The titular hex really just becomes a glob of coagulated gravy on top of this more cerebral variety of CoDZilla.

I also like the idea of thoroughly subverting the barbaric, primitive assumptions baked into the Hexer by turning their Evil Eye into the (arguably even more powerful) withering gaze of a librarian.

No comments:

Post a Comment