Ecology is widely seen as a low tier tertiary, one with a trick or two but that generally has minimal impact on the game. In a general sense, Ecology has a wide range of "utility abilties" when compared to other options availible to the Druid and Bard guilds that can take it. However, the outdated and haphazard nature of the skillset causes it to significantly fall behind in all scenarios, including both combat application and utility. There have always been calls to address ecology to no success, but the overhaul really punished Ecology: flattening the few stand out abilities or strategies remaining to the skillset.
The purpose of this thread is to serve as a nexus for gathering and planning a player-driven "Underhaul", a campaign of coordinated reworking through the reporting/envoy mechanic. In this opening post I'm going to split the skillset into its component parts and address each one individually; provide an overview of the mechanic as it exists now; how it works in practice and in context; and present solutions both directional and concrete where possible. Hopefully that will equip those new to reporting to jump in!
Ecology has five main mechanics: Charms, Banes, Fetish, Smudges, and The Bond. Each mechanic primarly serves the Ecologist in a specific niche, with only small amounts of crossover. I.E., Charms are a purely defensive ability and also constitute almost ALL of the skillset's defensive powers. Bond is dealt with last, as it's the most complex ability in this model.
Ecologists use 20 commodities to construct a charm that, once worn, provides defensive value [dmp] to the ecologist. These commodities must be added in multiples of five, and dictate what types the charm protects against. This defense begins at a value of 2/2 and the cap increases by 2 for every additional unit (5 comms) supplied.
Before the overhaul, charms were one of the big draws to Ecology. Instead of the expanding cap mechanic, the defense value started at 20dmp, ranging up to 40dmp for a Trans ecologist. The way dmp use to work is that the first 20 points counted 1:1 in defensive percentage, the next 20 counted 2:1 and so on. Therefore, if you dumped the entire charm into one type you could benefit from up to 30% damage reduction to that type from this one skill! Most users would benefit somewhat less from the defense, closer to around 20% if all of their comms were allocated to a single type. Because of the diminishing return mechanic, there was choice between maximizing the amount of defense to a single type and maximizing the overall defense value of the skill by spreading the damage reduction to multiple types, avoiding gaining dmp of a lower value. Because the full defense of 40dmp was divided into the 20 commodities, there was a high degree of granularity availible to the user to walk this line and figure out which was more important to them in their situations: something I personally think is good design. Overall this was at once the most flexible and most powerful static damage mitigation ability in the game!
Post overhaul: Because of the 5 comm requirement, there are effectively four "units" of defense, you can use up from 0-4 of these to any type. However, the strength of the defense never scales: it is either 0% defense to a chosen type or 6%. This is a tremendous flattening of the absolute power of this defense, as well as removing the interesting nuance and flexibility of the power. That turns this into a set-it-and-forget-it incremental ability whose effects can be measured, but are very unlikely to make a tangible difference to the user in any usecase. It doesn't serve to reasonably shore up weak defenses because of the paltry nature of the defense, nor does it allow for a singular high defense value. It's outshone in every way by commonly availible consumables, and importantly doesn't even stack very well with them as the caps start so low and take a while to increase beyond the level of the consumables. In short, it was absolutely dismantled by the defensive overhaul and lost both its absolute power (which can be argued is a good thing, to lower defenses across the board), but also its value relative to other defenses.
Solutions: Frankly the basic idea here is still solid, the numbers are just awful. To be fixed, charms should be made more granular (smaller increments than 5), and both the cap AND the power should scale to the number of commodities input. The maximum amounts should be dramatically higher than a level 2 defense. Perhaps other types of pure defense abilities could be incorporated to charms, or a second type of charm for non-dmp A suggested concrete report to this end will follow, this is the easiest to fix I believe.
The Banes (Window-type offense)
Banes are incurable afflictions the Ecologist spends 3 power to lay on an enemy. They last for one minute. The three are:
Snake Bane - Halves poison shrugging
Bat Bane - Increases Music skill damage some percent (?)
Herb Bane - Gives wafer eats a 50% chance to fail and instead do minor (100?) damage. Does not consume wafer balance.
Herb bane has off and on been one of the "one tricks" of ecology. In tandem with aeon and asthma it can (now) be used to help perpetuate an aeon lock, though true aeon lack strategies aren't prevalent in commune group combat anymore, and the game is overall moving away from these types of strats. Herb bane has ping ponged back and forth in usefulness as it's changed, and that I think indicates that it eventually should be replaced, but it is overall of low priority. It's fine.
The other two banes on the other hand have diverging potential. Bat Bane is strange in that it has no use for a Druid Ecologist, and when used by a bard or in groups does not change the math on Bard combat for the commune bards. The increased damage does not meaningfully change or help the bard, who kills via a dchord combo guaranteed to kill if pulled off anyways!
Snake Bane is pretty bad because it acts as one of two ways that active use of the fetish becomes even semireliable. In other words, it is a 3p tax on using the Ecologist's poison offense, without which said offensive powers are twice as poor as they otherwise already are.. This doesn't add anything interesting to the skillset.
Solution: Banes as an idea are interesting and workable: 1 minute effects that act as a "window" in which combat has slightly different rules. In fact, I predict (and have predicted previously) that combat design will increasingly rely on such effects as a natural result of the Curing Overhaul, see Nihilists etc.. However, these exact effects can stand to be totally replaced, particularly Snake and Bat Banes. What form they take would need to be addressed in the context of how Druids and Bards are expected to act, something that's very much up in the air for Druids even now.I think it would be neat for these to be highly conditional. Something on the order of "for the next 3 minutes every third dust aff you recieve causes you to recieve a lucidity aff" or "based on the order of affs hitting you, you suffer a secondary effect" or "For the next minute, if you shield you suffer 2 afflictions from this pool" or something.
The Fetish (Direct, Single Target Offense)
An ecologists fetish is an item that allows the ecologist to attack with poisons. This has two modes: an active mode and a passive mode that's connected with the bond. In active mode, the user can spend a short balance to attack an enemy in the room (or line of sight) with a single poison they hold in their hands. There are some limits on which poisons are allowed. They may spend 1 power to attack with 2 poisons. Alternately, the Ecologist may use their fetish to armor their bond, which allows spending 3p to have the bond sting a target for a time, with pre-applied poisons. This mode is also required for various other bond options.
There are a lot of problems with this. First, the scope of poisons has been dramatically shifted as part of repeated Warrior and Monk overhauls. For one, a lot of the old good tricks for Druids involved using limb break poisons to hinder an opponent sprawled using morphite. The loss of the break poisons has dramatically lessened the standalone power of poisons. Remember, poisons are primarily balanced around being part of a warrior attack or monk combo, where they are paired alongside damage, wounds, and other afflictions. The ecologist needs to either spend power and a balance or more power and give up the ability to activevly respond to put out poisons, and must spend 3p or other setup time or the poisons have a baseline 33% chance to do nothing! Once upon a time, because most poisons were herb cures you could build herb stacks to force bad choices onto the enemy, but curing is faster and much more random now, this doesn't really work. In short, the fetish just no longer serves as part of a Druid or Bard offense in any meaningful way. It allows the user to spam afflictions onto targets, or add a small passive chance to afflict the target, but is categorically worse at doing those things than Glamours or any of the Druid tert choices.
It's also a bit strange how the active stinging portion is entangled with bond mechanics at this point. I think that the intent was that one class taking the skillset, Druid, would be more inclined to using the active poison option to hinder for Sap and that bards would want to use their actions for music attacks, and would prefer a passive bond. However, this has become so muddied and problematic that it doesn't make sense anymore.
There are also some significant QoL issues with the fetish, including the scavenger hunt mechanic required to form it and the WHOPPING 50p to do so when it decays.
Solution: I suggest untying the fetish from familiar armor, and removing bond sting entirely. The bond now has other options for attacking on its own that can be expanded and balanced alongside whatever fetish does. At minimum, fetish stinging should no longer have to deal with shrugging, but frankly I think that it would end up more clean to have the fetish to no longer use poisons, and work as a single target active offense in some other way, keeping in mind how poisons are balanced. There needs to be discussion on what this could look like when combined with the other types of offense this skillset offers.
Smudges (Group utility/offense)
Smudges are items crafted out of herbs that are lit to do a room effect on a delay. The user spends a short balance to craft the item (1-2s iirc), and then can light them in their room or have a bond deliver them to a target. After a randomized delay of 0-5s, the smudge erupts into smoke, displaying its type to the room. 8s after this point, the effect resolves on all of the user's personal enemies who are unshielded in the room or its tree elevation. Using a gust enchant during the 8 second burn period causes all smudges in the room to reset back to the delay period. The smudges are:
Hills - Afflicts enemies with mud. Causes rubble-like delay on walking, cleanse cured.
Desert - Afflicts enemies with blind and small bleeding (150?)
Swamp - Non-magical movement stopped for 1s. Trying anyways extends the time slightly.
Valley - Enemies are flung into the sky, if possible.
Mountain - Enemies are sprawled, with 0-2 limbs randomly broken.
Forest - Enemies are stunned, set ablaze, and recieve minor damage (~200).
Smudges are another pretty much okay mechanic that hasn't changed much as a result of the overhaul. Generally speaking it's almost always going to be better to KILL a single target than mildly inconvenience the entire enemy group unless you're doing a groupwide hinder. Some of the smudges have served that kind of role for druids, though less so for bards who mostly use them for the group effects.
Solution: The smudges that tend to see use in group combat are forest for the stun and valley for the group splitting. Sometimes mountain serves to split groups or do some slight hindering in conjunction with a non-druid meld, so that's good. These might need a bit of cleaning up, and are rather random, slow, and costly for what they do but are otherwise mostly fine. In particular Mud needs a new effect to move away from cleanse cures, Swamp needs a rework, and Desert needs adjusting to cope with the new curing overhaul. By and large these can be tackled one by one, and shouldn't have a large impact overall on the rest of the skillset.
The Bond (Utility Grab Bag, single target passive offense)
The bond is complicated, which is why I saved it for last. The user can kill an animal and then rebirth it to recieve a random pet. The pet is very easy to kill, and can destroy the ecologist if this happens. This pet may be moved around at range, with a limited ability to hear what people say in its room, and generally scout mildly. By forgoing the active fetish abilities, the bond becomes armored which makes it invulnerable to being killed though attacking it can still disrupt it. It also then can be used in combat for a few effects, like delivering smudges at range, stinging enemies to deliver poisons/snakebites and a new secondary effect, or as a way past barricades, as the user may teleport to it after a delay.
The basic thing with the bond is that it's CLUNKY as all hell, and needs significant updates to its capabilities: some to enhance it, but many just to take various patches done over the years and reintegrate them to the base functionality more cleanly. There's a lot of mysterious old difficulties, such as not being able to choose which specific animal you want to rebirth, necessitating "rebirth roulette" where you spam it and its high power cost until you get the animal that fits your class - something made worse by upgrades based on what specific animal you have.
In theory, the bond is supposed to be used primarily by Bards, and the active fetish by Druids, but this doesn't really shake out very well and is of dubious value.
Solution: Finally finally just allow rebirthing a specific animal. There's now too much that depends on the specific animal with both transmigration effects AND unique animal attacks. Let bonds see emotes and other types of actions in the room they're in if Listen is on, including illusions (this is actually a buff to illusions). Take familiar sting out (as noted), and focus more on unique things the bond can be commanded to do, perhaps on its own "familiar balance" akin to beast balance. Some of these things can be immediate, others will be more complicated.