The Vanguard….. I’ve read through the revised edition of this Genius Guide, planning out a character concept here, an NPC idea there….in short, I did what I always do, I read through the material and tried to decide for myself, would I use this concept in my game. The answer is yes. In a heartbeat. Yes, from a purely meta-gamer point of view this is a concept that has now been done three times over; the archon, the magus and of course the vanguard itself, so why the need right? Simple answer, because there’s more than one class swinging a sword isn’t there? We play in a game that is built on versatility and option. It is that wealth of option that makes the game what it is. Without option we all end up playing the same character, and that my friends gets boring, fast. Not to mention how many times can you travel to a new city to discover the captain of the guard is the clone of the last town’s guard captain, which is fine since their town spell chucker is the twin brother of EVERY OTHER spell chucking NPC….no thank you. I like options, and lots of them. Yes, there are overlap concepts here with the other two spell chucking sword swinging classes, so what? There are also overlaps with cavaliers, templars and paladins, clerics and paladins, cavaliers and fighters, bards and…well everybody. Point being, the vanguard still has a unique identity that sets it apart where it matters, and that alone made it worth taking the time to revise. So, lets get into this, shall we?
Weighing in at 11 pages, we get the standard SGG 3 column landscape format that opens with the partial cover that SGG has certainly made a signature look by now. Only one wording mishap caught my eye, and it was a minor one. Spelling looked fine throughout, as did spacing and punctuation. Artwork is all stock (I do believe), and of decent quality. I found it amusing, this being a revision of a class that Marc Radle designed, and yet there was not a single Radle drawing within this PDF, and I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed by this. Of the 11 pages of material, we lose one to the OGL/credits, leaving the rest to handle crunch and fluff…the former being far more prevalent than the latter.
At its base, the vanguard feels to me to fill the niche that the sorcerer did. The vanguard need not study, has a severely limited amount of spells they may know, and will never accomplish the full potential of magical power that the true wizard will. On the other hand, they don’t suffer near as many penalties for wearing armor and carrying weaponry while performing those spells they do know, and act as a fantastic opening line of offense/defense for a playgroup, having the “out the gate” capacity to handle the first round or two of combat on the front lines to aid the playgroup’s tank in dealing some physical damage to a foe while tactically getting in some arcane blows as well, leaving the bigger badder spell work to the chuckers in the back, giving them time to work their mojo. Another nice feature for this class has got to be their capacity to cast touch spells through their weapon, turning every successful melee attack (or ranged if you go with an archer) into a spell delivery opportunity.
With a list of Class Features that include an Arcane Bonded Weapon (which becomes the focus point of all of their magical casting capacity, as well as gaining some very useful and nice features as levels progress) and Vanguard Blast (think magic missile with more umph) the true winner for me in the class features had to be the Spell Maneuvers. There are nine presented here, with the potential to pick up six throughout the career of a vanguard, and they offer up some very interesting options for combat tactics including: Spell Block – essentially pulling off a dispel magic trick with your weapon, Spell Charge – replacing the melee attack portion of a charge with a spell casting, Spell Grapple – in tandem with the spell block, instead of wasting the spell blocked, store it within weapon to cast back utilizing the vanguard’s levels and numbers to determine the pertinent information.
At eight level the vanguard can begin utilize their Arcane Smite class feature, sacrificing a spell to add its level worth of HD damage to a weapon strike. Ninth level sees the option to further enhance the bonded weapon with a list of interesting choices with a limit in rounds per total vanguard level.
And of course, as is standard, a class must come with feats, and although these feats would work well with many different classes, they were designed with the vanguard in mind. Feats such as Arcane Defense that allow you to burn a spell to gain its level in bonus to your armor class temporarily (think along the lines of sheathing yourself in the raw magical energy for a second essentially), a handful of feats along the lines of improved/greater versions of class features such as the arcane smite, vanguard blast and spell block. The standout feat for me that really tied the concept of the vanguard back to the sorcerer (beyond the fact they don’t study and have a limited selection of spells, lol) was the Vanguard Heritage. With this feat, you choose a bloodline as per the sorcerer class, that you do not already have, and gain it’s 1st level bloodline power. Being a stack-able feat, every time you take it, you gain the next power in that bloodlines natural progression.
Two new spells are presented here as well, both dealing with summoning the bonded weapon, and as useful as they both are, struck me as kind of blah blah blah…sorry, but I saw them both coming, no wow factor from either of them. Solid design mechanically speaking, just no wow factor for me.
So, final thoughts on the vanguard…..yes, it’s a spell casting weapon swinging class, and there are a few options for that combination. I think it comes down to personal tastes regarding classes, whether you are a meta-gamer or not, a player/GM who enjoys a character ripe with role play potential…or roll play capacity. It should be noted that Rite Publishing’s 101 Renegade Class Feats does offer up some support for this class with a few useful feats that will further broaden the pool of options. I personally enjoyed the class as an option, as I like variety, and a lot of it. It did not feel over powered, nor under powered to me for my campaign world, and as a class I like the flavor of it. I would like to see the Geniuses go a step further with this revision, and perhaps give us an updated collection of support introducing additional Spell Maneuvers and/or feats, perhaps in Bullet Point format, or even bundled together with a support book for the Archon and Magus, thereby tying the trinity of steel wielding spell chuckers together.
So, as a class option, perhaps the vanguard is not for every game group, and as a GM you have to ask yourself, are you OK with every variation of the fighter being at your table? Because if you are, then you have no reason to not allow the vanguard, as in the end, it is just that, another option. With the two spells presented (neither of them even registering any coolness other than that they both felt like a requirement rather than a cool new concept) I’m going to have to go with a 4.5 for my total on this product, rounding up to a 5 for the sheer fact that the spells aren’t enough to round down for.