I’ve been working on this one for a while. It came as a request from one of my patrons. Basically, the idea was that the character has control of a puppet a la Naruto puppet technique.
Of course, the trick to this, as always, is balancing action economy and damage output with the other classes. Not always the easiest thing to do.
If you’ve been patiently waiting for Part 2, it’s now live: Puppet Master Upgrades.
The material here is presented for playtesting and to spark your imagination. These game mechanics are in draft form, usable in your campaign but not refined by
final game design and editing. They aren’t officially part of the game.
Constructive feedback is welcome and appreciated in either comments or social media. If you can give me a valid reason with examples why something is off, 9/10 I’m likely to make changes to the content and credit you for doing so. Otherwise, feedback without anything to back it up gets ignored (or at most a smile emoji like this 🙂 ) Thanks!
Here are my notes for this build.
Before the Build
This isn’t the first time I’ve started this class. I had a few non-starters. But I finally came up with kind of a neat way of creating this build. Basically, I want the class to have its puppet right from the beginning.
- The class itself will work somewhat like a half-caster class, probably the ranger since the ranger gets its companion at 3rd.
- I will probably make the puppet master itself incredibly weak, literally on par with a commoner. It’ll be a bit like a familiar to its own puppet if that makes any sense.
- At the end of short or long rests, the puppet master can retool its puppet so it has different abilities.
- In place of spells, the puppet master has “upgrades” it can give its puppets.
After the build
Yowzas. This took a long time to create. I spent roughly two weeks on it, making sure everything was tight. And I had to do a ton of research, too. Let’s dive into all the different elements and explain my reasoning behind it all:
- Hit points, proficiencies, etc. The puppet master itself is designed to be weak. Almost commoner level weak. I want to put emphasis on the puppet and nearly all of the puppet’s features and the subclass features are meant to keep distance between enemies and the puppet itself. Also, once the puppet starts getting upgrades, it gets to be a pretty tough cookie.
- Saving Throws. Intelligence made sense because this is designed to be a SAD class built around Intelligence. I then followed it up with Dex to give it one of the big three proficiencies.
- Puppetry. This was probably the biggest and most difficult part of the build. I referenced at least 3-4 different parts of preexisting Fifth Edition rules to get this right. It’s part Ranger companion with Dominate Person mixed in. Plus, it had to make the Puppet work, too, using the ability scores of the puppet master. There are some elements of the puppetry trait that I like but I fear might be too “fiddly” such as the mechanics for strings. Regardless, I’d rather add too much and take away than leave out everything and have to rebalance and rebuild.
- Puppet Repair. This one was tricky. I spent a long time going back and forth on it. Initially, I was going to be “mean” and allow for no repairs. But that would just get tedious. So I decided to add a feature that allows you access to “repair” dice that you can make repairs to the puppet. You start with just one, and get more as you hit certain levels: 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th, essentially following your upgrade progression path. Additionally, I added in a “reel” ability that lets you retract your puppet once it looks like it’s about to get its ass kicked. I’m not a fan of doing once per day class features, but this was the only way I could get this ability in there without being redundant. I still might take it out in a final version and make it a first level upgrade instead. We’ll see.
- Anti-Dip. One controversial element of this build is that it may attract those who wish to “dip” into this level to pick up the puppet. However, that’s neutralized pretty quickly as it’s impossible to control the puppet and perform actions at the same time. If anything, this is probably the most difficult of all the classes to dip into.
- Upgrades. This is another elaborate system of rules that I had to create for this class, but it was too cool not to try out. Basically, instead of casting spells, you can upgrade your puppet through use of upgrade points. This lets you add new improvements to it that stay in place until you actually take the time to remove it. Most of the upgrades will be built keeping balance in mind. For example, the second level upgrades that are available at the 5th level will introduce multiattack and “big arms” to allow for extra damage and action economy. This will also really allow for some interesting customizations for the puppets, allowing for everything from spider puppets, to rogue puppets, to potentially even fire-breathing puppets. I’ll be using the magic item creation guidelines to create these powers and focusing on spells that offer long term benefits such as mage armor and barkskin. There might even be some “feat”-like abilities tossed in, too.
- Other Traits. Nearly all of the class traits involve boosting the defensive capabilities of the puppet itself, most pulled from Rogues and Rangers (evasion, uncanny dodge, etc). At 11th and 20th, the puppet master also frees up some of its own action economy by removing its hands from using the puppet.
- Techniques. For now, there are two main subclasses for the puppet master, Masterpiece Method and Shadow Dance. Masterpiece is all about showing off and making your puppet a work of art, whereas Shadow Dance is more about standing back and making your puppet seem as real as possible. Both methods emphasizes protecting you, but in different ways. Masterpiece makes your puppet flexible and protective of you directly, whereas Shadow Dance encourages hiding and making people think that you’re not even there. These were fairly simple builds, which I modeled after “parallel” class features, usually looking at either the paladin or ranger, and sometimes the rogue and bard.
Of course, being a new class, it’ll need some playtesting, especially since it’s got some mechanics never used before in the game. But I’m pretty confident that right now, as it is, it’s fairly balanced.
The wooden man speaks slowly, carefully selecting his words; it’s hard to believe that it’s being controlled by the shadowy, dwarven figure off to the side.
A construct fashioned from wood with gold accents dances upon the stage wowing the onlookers, its elven master smiling as it twists its fingers, dictating its every move.
Upon the back of a four-armed canvas monstrosity, the puppet master yanks on her creation’s silver strings. Instantly, the puppet swings its massive arms, knocking aside the charging orc.
Puppet masters are a combination of craftsmen and women, performers, and magicians, that construct surrogates to represent and assist them in combat, interactions, and other functions. And while all puppet masters share the common thread of creator and creation, they are varied in their approach and styles.
What makes puppet masters unique is their ability to create their puppets and upgrade them as they become more experienced. While most puppets begin as nothing more than a dull combination of wood and canvas in the rough shape of a humanoid, as it improves the puppet takes on a life of its own.
Some puppet masters construct their puppets for combat, granting it extra arms, armor, and weapons to assist adventurers in combat.
Others might create a puppet that’s versed in social etiquette and decorum, making it as lifelike as possible.
While still there are puppet masters who see puppets as a chance to create something truly unique or even horrifying.
Master and the Servant
The relationship between the puppet master and its puppet is an ever-evolving one. When a puppet master starts its journey with its puppet, he or she is in full control. The puppet cannot act nor move without effort from the master. In time, though, the puppet changes, becoming more and more its own entity. Eventually, the puppet master does not even need to use strings to control its puppet, as the puppet is able to move and act on its own, following the telepathic commands of its master.
Creating a Puppet Master
Puppet masters have two sides to them. The first side is found in their own persona. Why did you become a puppet master in the first place? Did you want the world to notice your talents and craftsmanship? Were you weaker than your peers and needed something to assist and protect you? Or did you simply want to fade into the background and become someone else, as represented by your puppet avatar?
The next side of the puppet master is the puppet itself. What does your puppet look like? Is it simple and utilitarian, all of its parts and functions there to improve its performance in assisting you? Or is it majestic and well-cared for, stunning to behold?
Once you know your reasons for being a puppet master and what your puppet is like, you will need to decide on a few more things. What is the relationship like between you and your puppet? Are you the master and it your unerring servant? Or are you two a team? Perhaps there is even a feeling of family; father and son, mother and daughter, brother and sister. Finally, what made you and your puppet set out on adventures? Was it to test your talents as a puppeteer? Or were you driven by some greater purpose, the likes of which only the help of your creation could accomplish?
You can make a puppet master quickly by following these suggestions. First, Intelligence should be your highest ability score. This is what you use to control your puppet and create quality upgrades. Next, make Constitution or Dexterity your next highest if you want a better chance at surviving attacks that surpass your puppet.
|Level||Prof. Bonus||Features||Upgrade Points||Upgrades Known||Upgrade Level|
|1st||+2||Puppetry, Puppet Repair||–||–||–|
|3rd||+2||Puppet Master Technique||3||4||1st|
|4th||+2||Ability Score Improvement||4||4||1st|
|8th||+3||Ability Score Improvement||8||6||2nd|
|12th||+4||Ability Score Improvement||12||8||3rd|
|16th||+5||Ability Score Improvement||16||10||4th|
|19th||+6||Ability Score Improvement||19||12||5th|
As a puppet master, you gain the following class features.
Hit Points: 1d6 per puppet master level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 6 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d6 (or 4) + your Constitution modifier per puppet master level after 1st
Weapons: Clubs, daggers, handaxes, darts
Tools: Tinker’s tools
Saving Throws: Dexterity, Intelligence
Skills: Choose two from Acrobatics, Deception, Insight, Perception, Performance, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth
You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (a) a club or (b) a handaxe
- (a) a diplomat’s pack or (b) an entertainer’s pack
- 3 daggers
- Medium canvas-and-wood puppet, puppeteer’s gloves, and hemp puppet strings.
- Tinker’s tools
You have learned how to create a life-sized construct that appears to move and act on its own. In reality, it is a puppet controlled by strings attached to your hands.
When you select this class, you gain your first puppet which is a construct made from canvas and wood. Your puppet starts with the following statistics:
- Your puppet is a construct. As a construct, your puppet cannot speak on its own and it is unaligned. It does not require air, food, drink, or sleep and it is immune to disease.
- Your puppet’s size is Medium.
- Your puppet’s Armor Class is 11 + your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier.
- Your puppet has hit points equal to eight times your puppet master level.
- Your puppet cannot be healed through normal magical healing, but only with your puppet repair feature.
- Your puppet’s movement speed is 30 ft. It must always remain within strings’ length of you.
- Your puppet’s Strength and Dexterity scores are the same as your Intelligence score. Your puppet’s Constitution score is 11. Your puppet’s Intelligence and Charisma scores equal 1. And your puppet’s Wisdom score is the same as your Wisdom score.
- Your puppet has proficiency in Strength and Dexterity saving throws.
- Your puppet starts without any skill proficiencies. If your puppet later becomes proficient in a particular skill, its ability checks are made using your proficiency bonus plus your Intelligence modifier regardless of what the skill is.
- Your puppet can’t see and has no passive Perception of its own. It only reacts to what you can see until you gain the Freehand Puppetry feature.
- The puppet is immune to poison and psychic damage. It is also immune to the blinded, charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, and poisoned conditions as well.
- Your puppet is proficient with simple weapons. Both its melee and ranged weapon attack bonus equals your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier.
- Your puppet can use two weapons as normal and doesn’t add your Intelligence modifier to the bonus attack unless that modifier is negative.
- When attacking with a weapon, your puppet adds your Intelligence modifier to the damage roll.
- The puppet has a natural slam attack that deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1d6 + your Intelligence modifier.
You control your puppet through use of special strings. It takes its turn on your initiative, though it doesn’t take an action unless you control it. On your turn, through a combination of hand motions and telepathic signals, you can control where the puppet moves (no action required by you). It must stay within the range of your strings. You can use your action to control the puppet so that it can take any action normally available to a creature except for the Cast a Spell and Search actions.
If you are incapacitated the puppet is also incapacitated. If you are blinded, frightened, poisoned, or restrained the puppet has disadvantage on all of its attack rolls, ability checks, and Dexterity saving throws. Plus, its movement is halved and any attack rolls made against the puppet have advantage.
Your puppet cannot use reactions. However, if a creature would provoke an attack of opportunity against your puppet, you can use your own reaction to have the puppet make an opportunity attack against the provoking creature.
If your puppet’s hit points are reduced to 0, it is destroyed. Your puppet loses all of its upgrades if it is destroyed and you regain spent upgrade points. If your puppet is lost or destroyed, you can create a new puppet by spending 4 hours crafting a replacement using your tinker’s tools. You must have the original puppet or at least 100 gp of resources available to you.
When you complete a long rest, you can make repairs to your puppet as long as it has 1 hit point remaining and you have tinker’s tools available. At the end of a long rest, your puppet and its strings regain all lost hit points.
Your puppet is controlled via special strings. Without these strings, you cannot control your puppet and your puppet is incapacitated. You start with ten hemp strings that are attached to each of your fingers via puppeteer’s gloves. While controlling the puppet you cannot hold an item in either of your hands nor can you take actions that require you to use your hands such as making a Sleight of Hand check or opening a door. Only your puppet can perform these actions for you.
At any time, you can use your action to remove your gloves. Your puppet immediately becomes incapacitated when you do. You must use another action to put your gloves back on, at which point, your puppet immediately becomes active again.
|Silk*||180 gp||11||20||90 ft.||18 lbs.|
|Hemp*||12 gp||11||20||60 ft.||24 lbs.|
|Steel||120 gp||19||60||30 ft.||30 lbs.|
|Mithral||600 gp||21||70||60 ft.||12 lbs.|
|Adamantine||1,200 gp||23||80||60 ft.||45 lbs.|
* Vulnerable to fire damage.
A creature can target your puppet’s strings by making an attack roll targetting the string’s AC. If the attack hits, the creature rolls damage as normal. The strings are immune to psychic and poison damage and they are resistant to bludgeoning and piercing damage. Hemp and silk strings are vulnerable to fire damage.
When the strings’ hit points are reduced to half or less, you lose partial control over your puppet. Your puppet’s movement is halved, it has disadvantage on all attack rolls, ability checks, and Dexterity saving throws, and attacks made against it are made with advantage. If the strings’ hit points are reduced to 0, you no longer control the puppet and it is incapacitated until its strings are repaired or replaced.
Your puppet must stay within a distance of you equal to its strings’ length as shown on the Puppet Strings table. While your puppet’s strings are connected and you are wearing your gloves, any spell or magical effect that would separate you and your puppet such as a banishment or plane shift spell automatically targets both of you. Roll one saving throw using either your saving throw modifier and proficiency bonus or your puppet’s, whichever is higher.
Optional Rule. At the DM’s discretion, your strings form a line that reaches from you to your puppet. The line is considered difficult terrain to any creature that crosses through it.
Starting at 1st level, you can make quick repairs to your puppet or its strings using repair dice. You start with two repair dice, which are d8s. To make a repair, you roll one or more repair dice, and your puppet regains hit points equal to the amount rolled. A repair die is expended when you use it. You regain all of your expended repair dice when you finish a short or long rest.
You gain another repair die at 5th level (three 1d8s), and again at 9th level (four 1d8s), 13th level (five 1d8s), and 17th level (six 1d8s).
At 2nd level, you have learned ways to retool your puppet with new bonuses, benefits, and features called upgrades.
At 2nd level, you have 2 upgrade points which you can use to upgrade your puppet. Your upgrade points go up as you reach higher levels, as shown in the Upgrade Points column of the Puppet Master table. You can never have more upgrade points than shown on the table for your level.
Upgrading Your Puppet
Your puppet must be present and have at least 1 hit point remaining in order for you to upgrade it. Using your tinker’s tools, you spend your upgrade points on any upgrades that are known to you. The benefits of the upgrade immediately take effect. While your puppet benefits from the upgrade, you cannot use the upgrade points used to upgrade it until you remove the upgrade.
You can use your tinker’s tools to remove upgrades to regain spent upgrade points. You must select which upgrade you wish to remove and spend the requisite removal time removing it as noted in the upgrade’s description. Once the removal is completed, your puppet loses the benefits of the upgrade and you regain the cost of the upgrade back in upgrade points which you are free to spend on different upgrades.
Upgrades Known of 2nd Level and Higher
At 2nd level, you know three 1st-level upgrades of your choice from the puppet master upgrade list.
The Upgrades Known column of the Puppet Master table shows when you learn more upgrades of your choice at 1st level and higher. An upgrade you choose must be of a level no higher than what’s shown in the table’s Upgrade Level column for your level. When you reach 9th level, for example, you learn a new upgrade which can be of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd level.
Additionally, when you gain a level in this class, you can choose one of the upgrades you know and replace it with another upgrade from the puppet master upgrades list, which also must be of a level for which you have upgrades.
The quality of your upgrades is determined by your Intelligence, so you and your puppet use Intelligence whenever an upgrade refers to your upgrade quality. In addition, you use your Intelligence modifier when setting the saving throw DC for an upgrade you use and when making an attack roll with one.
Upgrade save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier
Upgrade attack modifier = your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier
In order to spend upgrade points and add or remove upgrades to your puppet, you must have a set of tinker’s tools available to you.
Puppet Master Technique
At 3rd level, you choose a technique that you strive to emulate: Masterpiece Method or Shadow Dance. Your choice grants you features at 3rd level and again at 7th, 10th, 14th, and 18th level.
Ability Score Improvement
When you reach 4th level, and again at 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can’t increase an ability score above 20 using this feature. Once you increase one of your ability scores, remember to make adjustments to your puppet’s ability scores when necessary (for example, if you increase your Intelligence).
Beginning at 5th level, you can anticipate attacks coming at your puppet. When an attacker that you can see hits your puppet with an attack, you can use your reaction to halve the attack’s damage against your puppet.
Starting at 6th level, you can quickly retract your puppet to you to save it from being destroyed. When your puppet takes damage that would reduce its hit points to 0 and it is at least 10 feet away from you, you can use your reaction to pull your puppet to an unoccupied space within 5 feet of you. Your puppet still takes the hit, but its hit points drop to 1 instead.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Starting at 11th level, you can control your puppet using only one hand. While you have one hand free, you can’t hold anything with two hands, but you can hold or use a single object at a time. In addition, you can use your bonus action to make an attack with your free hand on each of your turns.
By 15th level, when your puppet is subjected to an effect, such as a red dragon’s fiery breath or a lightning bolt spell, that allows your puppet to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, your puppet instead takes no damage if you succeed on the puppet’s saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.
At 20th level, you can control your puppet without the use of strings. It functions independently of you and you have a telepathic link with your puppet as long as the two of you are on the same plane of existence. You can see through your puppet’s eyes and hear what it hears.
On your turn, you can telepathically command your puppet where to move and what action to take (no action required by you). Your puppet can take actions, bonus actions, and reactions on its own separate of your own. Certain features, such as Puppet Dodge, still require you to use your reaction in order for your puppet to gain the benefits of the feature.
Puppet Master Techniques
Puppet masters learn a variety of techniques, however, the two most popular are the Masterpiece Method and the Shadow Dance.
Puppet Masters who adopt the masterpiece method focus their efforts on improving their puppets as much as possible. They are not as concerned with making their puppet seem lifelike as they are making it the perfect champion.
Starting at 3rd level, the time you must spend to upgrade your puppet is halved. And if the upgrade has a material cost, the cost is halved. In addition, you know one extra 1st-level upgrade of your choice.
At 3rd level, your puppet becomes proficient in one skill of your choice: Acrobatics, Athletics, Sleight of Hand, or Stealth. You may select thieves’ tools or an artisans’ tools for your puppet instead of a skill. The puppet’s proficiency bonus is equal to double your proficiency bonus for any ability check it makes using the chosen proficiency.
Also, at 3rd level, you can put your puppetry technique on display by having your puppet perform a unique and mesmerizing dance.
You perform with your puppet for at least 1 minute. At the end of the performance, choose a number of humanoids within 60 feet of you who watched the entire performance, up to a number equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of one). Each target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your upgrade save DC or become charmed. While the creature is charmed by you, the target idolizes you and your puppet, it speaks glowingly of you and your puppet to anyone who talks to it, and it hinders anyone who opposes you or your puppet, although it avoids violence unless it was already inclined to fight on your behalf.
This effect ends on a target after 1 hour, if the target takes any damage, if you or your puppet attack the target, or if the target witnesses you or your puppet attack or damage any of its allies.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
At 7th level, you gain one of the following features of your choice.
Graceful Command. Opportunity attacks against your puppet are made with disadvantage.
Puppet Mount. You can mount your puppet by either standing on a platform at its waist, or riding it like a horse. The normal mounting and dismounting rules apply when you are mounted on your puppet. Plus, while mounted on your puppet you can force an attack targeted at you to target the puppet instead.
Vigilant Defender. When a creature that you can see moves within 15 feet of your puppet, you can use your reaction to move your puppet to a space that would put the creature within the puppet’s melee weapon reach (maximum of 10 feet). The movement occurs right before the creature moves again or uses an action or bonus action.
At 10th level, your puppet is such a picture of near perfection it is distracting to others. You have advantage on Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, and Persuasion) ability checks whenever your puppet is within 10 feet of you. The creature you are interacting must be able to see your puppet. Creatures that are immune to being charmed are not affected.
At 14th level, your puppet protects you at all costs. When you take damage from a creature that you can see that is within 5 feet of your puppet, you can use your reaction to have your puppet make a melee weapon attack against that creature.
At 18th level, you can add one extra 1st-level upgrade to your puppet that you know. This upgrade does not use any of your upgrade points, nor does it cost any extra gold or time. After you complete a long rest, you can swap out the upgrade for another 1st-level upgrade that you know.
Practitioners of the Shadow Dance are obsessed with making their puppets seem as lifelike as possible. They disappear into the shadows so their puppets may perform on their behalf. Over time, a Shadow Dance puppet master’s own allies may even forget that he or she exists beyond the puppet.
When you select this style at 3rd level, you have learned how to hide while your puppet acts on your behalf. On each of your turns, you can take the Hide action as a bonus action. This does not include your puppet, however, the puppet’s strings are also hidden. While you are hidden, you can control your puppet and have it take actions without giving away your position.
At 3rd level, you can speak through your puppet as if it is under the effect of the minor illusion cantrip. As long as your puppet is within 60 feet of you, the puppet speaks clearly and uses its mouth to emote normally. While you speak through it, you can use any skills that require you to interact verbally with another creature such as Charisma (Deception or Persuasion) through your puppet, using your normal ability modifiers and proficiency bonuses.
If a creature uses its action to examine the puppet, the creature can determine that it is an illusion with a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check against your upgrade save DC. If a creature discerns the ventriloquism for what it is and you are hidden, the creature has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks made to find you until the end of its next turn.
Beginning at 7th level, when a creature that you can see targets you with an attack and your puppet is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to swap places with your puppet, and the puppet becomes the target instead.
At 10th level, your ability to throw your voice is so perfect that it’s nearly impossible to tell the sounds your puppet are making are coming from somewhere else. All Intelligence (Investigation) checks to discern your Ventriloquism feature for what it is are made with disadvantage.
At 14th level, you can use your action to have your puppet weave a distracting string of words. Each creature of your choice within 60 feet of your puppet must make a Wisdom saving throw against your upgrade save DC. Any creature that can’t be charmed succeeds on this saving throw automatically, and if you or your companions are fighting a creature, it has advantage on the save. On a failed save, the target has disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks made to perceive any creature other than your puppet. The effect ends after 1 minute or until the target can no longer hear your puppet.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until after you complete a long rest.
Lost in the Shadows
At 18th level, your ability to hide your own presence during performances with your puppet is so great, that many creatures are unwilling to believe you even exist. While you are hidden and your puppet isn’t incapacitated, all Wisdom (Perception) checks made to find you are done so with disadvantage. A creature that is immune to being charmed ignores this effect.
Continued in Part 2 – Upgrades
This is the class itself. Next up, I’ll be covering the different upgrades available to your puppet and how the system works.
Thanks for everyone for being patient for this build! It took quite a while to get everything done since it uses a ton of rules language that doesn’t already exist in Dungeon & Dragons Fifth Edition.
Remember, this is just an initial run through. It’ll need some playtesting and tweaking, but for now, it should be tight enough that you can start using it in your campaigns.
Upgrades now available: Puppet Master Upgrades.
See you soon!
Art by League of Legends.