In recent discussions post-game, the subject of requests for Find the Hero Within came up and someone immediately said, “Do one on cats!” We laughed a little and asking clarity, the player in question said, “Don’t care, just do cats!” Getting down to thinking about it we realized that there was a pretty big elephant (well… eidolon) in the room about cats. So for the uninitiated, let’s talk about… Pounce.
From universal abilities: “When a creature with this special attack makes a charge, it can make a full attack (including rake attacks if the creature also has the rake ability).”
This ability shows up in about ten creature descriptions in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary, most of which are cats (lions, leopards, tigers) or catlike creatures (griffons). There are a couple exceptions. More entries showed up in later Bestiaries, but in general it was an ability for quadrupeds that were fast, clawed and able to leap with natural weapons bared.
And it was a obvious pick for the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player’s Guide summoner and its signature eidolon. Cat-like mystical companions are pretty iconic. Right? And yet in summoner’s Pathfinder Unchained reincarnation the Pounce ability reappeared with a 7th-level restriction and TRIPLE the evolution point costs! Why?
Most “problems” with “balance” arise from comparative basis. At low levels eidolons were being compared to melee class characters (and really any damage dealing role) and the numbers weren’t working out in anyone’s favor but the “kitty-form” eidolon. With a charge and full attack, 1st level “kitty-form” was getting its full claw/claw/bite routine.
For consideration some VERY BASIC math:
- Pounce “kitty form” eidolon attack routine = +5/+5/+5 to hit (+1 BAB, +2 STR, +2 Charge) for bite/claw/claw of 1d6+2/1d4+2/1d4+2 = 14.5 (Crit Average 29)
- Charge of 1st level raging barbarian 16 STR = +8 to hit (+3 STR, +2 from Rage STR, +2 Charge) for greataxe 1d12+7 = 13.5 (Crit Average 40.5)
- (The real statistic work here can get very complex and there are dozens of DPR websites that can do that math better, we are looking at a very simple illustration here.)
Note we aren’t including Power Attack or other feats here, just basic class abilities. And most people will pretty quickly see that in raw damage, the output of the eidolon is pretty similar to a solid melee class. So sort of fairish right? Barbarian is more accurate and has a higher damage range with critical hits. Oh, wait, there is the whole issue of the summoner–the one who is still standing there with a full round of actions and powers. Flanks, buffs, teamwork feats, the list goes on.
The Real Issues of Pounce Eidolons: Action Economy & Workday
In the above attack routine example we left out a significant issue that comes into play at higher levels, Pounce breaks the holiest of holiest of balance concepts: Action Economy. With allowing that full-attack action to come at the end of a charge we essential give pouncers a free move action. Making moving to new targets easy and takedowns (particularly after the addition of rake a 4th level) accelerated making the eidolons effectiveness in combat begin to outstrip some melee builds. Add in the actions of the summoner themselves and we see:
- Summoner Player = Move, Move, Full Attack, Standard Action (2.5 turns of actions)
- Barbarian = Move, Attack or Full Attack. (Standard Action Economy)
Side Note: Action Economy is the primary difference between mythic play and “normal” play. If you haven’t had an issue with eidolons yet then you can probably run mythic just fine.
The second “problem” of eidolon mechanics is that they surpass the limits of a workday. Full melee (or nearly so) effectiveness for 24 hours a day is a very rare resource for a spellcaster. Most summoning magic lasting a single combat in rounds and even summoners exceptional SLA still only “lives” for minutes. Yet the eidolon is summoned once and lasts until destroyed. Thus instead of duration, it is HP that determines an eidolon’s limits of daily function (they don’t heal normally either, see below).
Eidolons are not without a few serious drawbacks to consider when weighing their balance impact on a game:
- Eidolon hit points are unchanged from the last time it was dismissed or banished.
- If the eidolon was slain, in which case it returns with half its normal hit points.
- The eidolon does not heal naturally.
- Spells such as dismissal and banishment work normally on them.
Those are some hefty negatives. But still some people just can’t consider them fair. Its not hard to imagine why player (and GM) outcry would happen. With the apparent disparities at the table people practically lined up to Nerf Bat the “kitty-form” eidolons of a whole generation. Too bad they missed the boat for the most part…
Why We Still Allow Summoners (Both Kinds) at the Table-Even with Kitties
So with a number of potentially balance bending factors at hand, why would we still allow and even encourage summoners (“original flavor” and unchained) at our tables? Simple. Pounce and the Action Economy boost are not exclusive to summoners. Surprise! These core balance issues are ALREADY part of the game, accepted as such, and didn’t come knocking when the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide showed up…
- Summon Monster III – Allows for the summoning of celestial leopards at 5th level. Within 1HD of an eidolon and available to most major spellcasters. Action economy and workday balance are slightly improved with summons. However, these creatures get rake and pounce at near the same time as summoner (and faster than the unchained summoner).
- Summon Monster IV – Allows for celestial lions again with similar HD and with a size and stat buildout that a summoner would have to be 8th level to touch (requiring large).
- Summon Monster VI – Celestial Dire Tiger – 14HD. 5 HD better than an eidolon available to that level. Pounce, Rake. The only reason the have any relative power lag compared to “kitty form” eidolons is their very impressive defensive abilities. But don’t worry because by the time you summon a 14HD eidolon you can summon as many as SEVEN of these (yay empower and metamagic focus feats or items).
- And the REAL holdout powerhouse – Druid. Cat form companion? Check. Pounce? 7th level (Probably the reason unchained’s Pounce got moved for summoners) Rake at 4th level? How about 1st instead. Wait a second? FIVE possible attacks at first level? Yep. Higher Hit Die and BAB cap. Better spell support due to the enormous amount of animal only augmentation magic. Not enough? They can summon ALL of the above monsters (sans celestial template) at the SAME TIME their companion is active.
With so much Core Rulebook representation of Kitty Companion antics, it becomes clear that it if a group has a real issue with”kitty form” eidolons (driven by pounce’s Action Economy and/or their workday staying power) a GM probably needs to look at restricting summoning magic entirely and/or banning companion animal bonds. This probably means other things like the Leadership feat are out too. Or they can accept that some balances are tilted in favor of flavor and let sleeping kitties lie.
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