3.5 Memories: The Necropolitan (That Fucks)

Ever type out the title of an article, and look at it and go: Well, I can’t change that now.

Okay, this is one of those 3.5 D&D things that I think existed more in the theoretical than in the actual. There are some things back in the day that were very much only thought experiments. Things like Pun-Pun, where, given n units of ‘character build’ you could completely render the things the game was doing meaningless. Like, characters or designs that completely break the model of how the game works, where power escapes into one of the game’s overflow spaces. These things never really actually happened, because the game’s mechanisms are there to maintain and adjudicate a fictional reality where all the players participate in communal storytelling, and they aren’t going to hold on to ‘this is when my Kobold named Madness breaks reality over his knee.’

Basically, you could hypothetically do it, but in any game as a run experience, it collapses the fiction.

But there is stuff where the game had builds that, very simply could break the game accidentally. I’ve written about those things, for example with the Spelldancer. I’ve also talked about where sometimes the game presented power in spaces that could be seen as ‘safe’ power – the best melee damage dealer is never going to break the game the way that the best spellcasters could, as shown in the example of the Singh Rager.

This isn’t like that. This isn’t game-breaking power that makes the game obviously stop working, or that relies on badly written rules. I mean it does rely on badly written rules, but it doesn’t rely on them in a way that breaks the game. It is a strange form of free power.

And it’s about the undead, so spoooky stuff!

What’s a Necropolitan? The simplest way to describe it is ‘a human, but dead.’ Presented in the book Librus Mortis (page 114), it’s very setting-specific as a sort of specific smart wizard, who became an undead, and was able to kind of industrialise the process of becoming undead. Mechanically, it’s really easy to give you the broad strokes – it’s a template you can apply to a humanoid, make them undead, and they can then go about continuing to level up. It does some weird things, though, because this is a rare example of a template with an explicitly stated way to acquire it.

See, back in 3.5 D&D, they had the idea of making like ‘partial’ monster rules that you could slap onto a monster to make it, well, cooler. It was almost always to make the thing a cooler monster to fight. It started out with Fiendish and Celestial, which meant the game could suddenly mass-produce summonable versions of ordinary animals for summoner types, but also there were half-dragons that got to sort of stand as proof that uh, dragons fuck a lot of things, and apparently, intelligence isn’t a barrier for that.

Not… comfortable at all there.

Most of the time, templates gave you a bunch of cool shit, and that meant that if you wanted one on your character, you would pay for it in levels. Savage Species introduced the idea of Level Adjustment and ECL, which they noticed in 3.5 were redundant, and just used Level Adjustment (LA). So if you wanted to play a tiefling or aasimar, characters who at base were kinda better than your typical humans and orcs, you would be a level behind. In almost all cases, this is not worth it, and you’d largely be better off taking another class level, because that class level brings with it more spellcasting, because you’re playing a spellcaster right?

Anyway, the Necropolitan was an undead character option that didn’t use a level adjustment. There was a ritual you had to do, but importantly, it was all phrased as if it was a cost you paid for in-play expense. If you started a campaign as a Necropolitan already, then, the game didn’t have a rule in place for really handling how you got there. The game assumed a degree of money lost to expenditures like resurrection and healing, which meant the gold cost of the ritual was subsumed into your budget, and it also assumed that experience lost on the way to the level wasn’t permanently gone, otherwise characters who were resurrected in their backstories would be permanently down on XP compared to other players.

Simply put, because of a lack of clarity in the rules text, Necropolitan for any character after level 1 was a heritage option that you could start with and represented an undead character with a level adjustment of zero. And that brings with it benefits from being an undead. You don’t have a constitution score – like, at all, which means while most people are dividing their stat points between six stats, you’re dividing them between five. Your hit dice, no matter the class, become d12s, which is a big step up for most spellcasters living on a d4. You got to be immune to poison and disease and negative levels and negative energy, a lot of really nasty stuff.

It was, essentially, a form of free power. If you were a spellcaster, there’s a lot of upside to being a Necropolitan and almost no downside aside from flavour.

One drawback, though was that losing your constitution score meant you also lost access to bonus hit points from it. No big deal normally, after all, a d4 with a 18 constitution (2.5+4) worked out on average the same as a d12 with no constitution (6.5), but there were still people who wanted to find some way to push it. And I thought that surely, the Necropolitan unlocked something, right? There was some power level or spell synergy or whatever that made this power option so tangible for the Character Optimisation boards.

And the answer was nah, it was just almost free.

But while searching for it, I did find someone who was concerned about the loss of a constitution score. They wanted some way to improve their hit points without a constitution score, and so, they asked, for help on the old board spaces used for that. Over there, though, the brain trust found an obscure feat from the Forgotten Realms: Faerie Mysteries Initiate.

This feat is hilarious and dumb and extremely powerful in that kind of ‘wait, what was the last one?’ way of feats from the Forgotten Realms. The nature of the atomised cultures in the Realms meant that the endless content churn would put some truly weird things in spaces that didn’t make any sense. In this case, this is a feat that lets you and someone else with the feat, spend a little bit of a ritual to turn on an effect that would last for, functionally, all day.

The advantages are:

  • A +1 to attack orcs
  • A +4 to dancing and tumbling
  • A +1 to all saving throws
  • Use your intelligence modifier rather than your constitution modifier for hit points

That is not a feat inline with the other abilities, and typically modal feats like this are made to be less powerful, because you’re getting to choose the best thing out of a list of things for any situation.

Alright, so with this feat, a Necropolitan Wizard is getting their hitpoints and all for like 1d12+6, for the low low price of a feat, and that’s pretty freaking amazing. That’s Raging Barbarian numbers.

But, thing is, this feat isn’t quite that simple. You have to do something to get the benefit. And in this case, for the Intelligence bonus hit points?

‘You and your partner engage in an exuberant sensual act’

Soooooooo the fae say the people who want bonus hit points gotta fuck.