Two For the Price of One: Preview of the Vanguard Class

Today I'll be going over the second class of Path of Iron, the vanguard!

As with the saboteur, the vanguard class was designed to fill a role in Pathfinder that isn't well handled by the current rules while still keeping to Path of Iron's theme. The vanguard covers two roles in this case: the control of a construct, and a full-out metal/artifice themed magic caster. The vanguard fills these in the role of a combat-oriented support character, buffing himself, his construct, and his allies while still pulling his weight in battle. Outside of combat he serves as an artificer, making and identifying items with intuition and talent rather than practiced skills.

Vanguards have a d8 hit die, medium BAB progression, and good Fortitude and Will saves. He gets a solid array of weapon and armor proficiencies to play with (including firearms) but a pretty limited selection of skills. As the primary "metal mage" of the book he has 0-6 spontaneous casting like a bard does, with his spells focusing on metal, artifice, and support. Spells such as iron body, greater magic weapon, major creation, and disable construct are present: if the spell involves metal, objects, or constructs, chances are the vanguard has access to it. He also has access to some of the more staple support spells like bull's strength and haste. The class has three main mechanics to its name: Imbue, the Construct Companion, and the dualistic ability of Augmentation and Resonance.

Imbuing a spell functions like a more flexible version of contingency. Normally you can only make a contingent spell function on yourself, but a vanguard can imbue spells onto his weapons, having the spell trigger upon striking a target with that weapon. In addition, it's not limited to single-target effects. If the vanguard wants to imbue haste onto himself and sets it to trigger when he's struck, the spell triggers in its entirely as it were centered on him, letting him share the full benefits (or offensive power) of the imbued spell. At higher levels, the vanguard is even capable of imbuing multiple spells at once. This is primarily balanced by the limited nature of the vanguard's spell list, the fact that imbuing a spell takes 10 minutes, and the maximum level of spell you can imbue is limited (when he eventually gets his maximum of three imbued spells, one has to be 2nd level or lower, one is 4th level or lower, and one is 6th level or lower).

The construct companion is, of course, the most obvious feature the vanguard brings to the table. The companion is an intelligent, sentient construct, brought to life through the vanguard's innate magical power and intuition rather than practiced construction. The construct scales in many ways like an eidolon or an animal companion would, growing in strength as the vanguard gains levels. It comes in three main forms: combat form, eldritch form, and scouting form, which determine the companion's ability scores, speed, armor class, and class skills. As a construct, it comes stock with a large number of resistances already, but it's not without its weaknesses. It doesn't gain any extra hit points like a normal construct, nor is it immune to mind-affecting effects. Since it relies on the vanguard's magical power and will to keep it animated, it can't move more than 100 feet away or it shuts down, unable to act. It also shuts down this way if the vanguard is unconscious, asleep, killed, stunned, or confused, so the construct relies on the vanguard's support just as much as the vanguard relies on his companion.

The third, and most important, feature of the vanguard is its dual mechanic of Augmentation and Resonance. The vanguard is responsible for improving the functions of the construct companion, altering the magical power that animates the construct to grant it new power. These new abilities are called Augmentations, each one granting new abilities. Some are more suited to specific companion forms; an augmentation that grants the ability to cast a handful of low-level spells, for example, is best granted to an Eldritch form companion, as it will have the highest spell DC of the three forms. However, each augmentation serves a secondary purpose.

The vanguard can create what is known as a Resonance, a linking of the construct's new magically-granted capabilities with the vanguard's arcane power. These abilities are triggered by the vanguard and each augmentation has a different associated resonance. For example, the Energy Shielding augmentation grants the companion a scaling resistance to one energy type. By creating a resonance, the construct emits a field of energy that reduces damage of that type in an area around the companion, providing defense against that energy type to nearby allies. The choices the vanguard makes to augment his companion are vital to his combat strategy, as it determines not only his companion's power but also the vanguard's primary form of supporting allies and hindering foes. Of course, should the vanguard find he's in need of a different ability, he can spend a day altering the animating magic of his construct, changing out one of his selected augmentations with a different one, but the amount of time it takes to do so favors proper planning on the vanguard's part.

The vanguard is not without other mechanics to support itself and his construct. In line with his technical flavor, the vanguard receives bonuses on Craft, Disable Device, and Knowledge (Engineering) checks, as well as on Spellcraft checks to make or identify magic items. He eventually learns how to make items more quickly than others, creating mundane and magical items alike with great speed. He also gains a total of six bonus feats as he progresses in level, which can be either item creation feats or teamwork feats. Should he choose a teamwork feat, he automatically grants it to his construct companion.

That's all for now on the vanguard base class. The next preview will be going over some of the new magic spells that will be found in Path of Iron, along with the implications and use of the new metal descriptor.