Boosting Noncaster Pathfinder 1e Classes

I’m considering running an E6-style campaign for Pathfinder 1st edition in the not-too-distant future. That’s a play mode where character level progression stops at 6th level, and after that characters pick up a feat every few thousand experience points (and some higher-level abilities can be accessed as feats, and higher-level spells are sometimes available as rituals). I find such campaigns can have a very different feel from standard levels-go-normally-to-20th Pathfinder games, and can be great for more “Sword & Sorcery” stories (with typical Pathfinder often going quickly into High Fantasy and Epic Fantasy).

Being me, I am likely to use some houserules for such a campaign, to help produce a specific play experience focused on competent characters with flexible tools to encourage players to find creative ways to overcome situations. So far I have drafted from fodder foe rules, so I can still throw hordes of adversaries at my stuck-at-lower-level PCs, and a set of cantrip buffs to make 0-level spells more impactful and give spellcasters a set of options that won’t run out of daily uses.

Of course, granting a universal set of buffs to classes with access to cantrips obviously gives characters with those classes an edge. Given that being underpowered it not generally the problem with spellcasting classes, if we are going to give those classes a big boost every other class needs a few things as well. When looking at who has options in a game that wants to challenge players to get creative, classes with access to spells already had an edge, so the fewer spells (and similar abilities) a character class has access to, the more of a boost it needs for our Sword and Sorcery E6 game.

Since we’re not getting those boosts from spells, we need to look at other game elements, specifically, skills and feats.

Skill Specialization

To help them keep up with our super-cantrip spellcasters, classes with more limited spell access gain some bonus skill ranks and early access to Skill Unlocks (as presented in Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Pathfinder Unchained). Since the game is designed to cap at 6th level, PCs would normally never get the skill unlocks for having 10 and 15 ranks in a skill. So by granting skill unlocks early, we can give classes with fewer spells a flexible edge that other characters don’t have access to. This special skill boost is referred to as skill specialization.

The less access a class grants to spells and other special powers, the more skill specialization it needs. As convenient break-points, I’ve created major and minor skill specialization (defined below), and a lesser option to access some skill specialization by spending a feat (for classes with a lot of general spellpower, but who don’t get cantrips). These don’t apply to all a characters’ skills, just a few they select from their class skills (which helps encourage spotlight protection of different rolls, without locking any class into one one option).

For purposes of deciding how many skill unlock boosts a class gives you, point-based power pools such as monk’s ki and gunslinger panache are treated as spell-like abilities, due to their flexibility and utility, even though in some cases the powers they grant are all extraordinary and/or supernatural. Similarly some classes (such as kineticist) are placed in categories based on their overall magic power access, even if they don’t gain normal spellcasting. I’ve categorized the official classes by how much skill specialization they gain, with brief descriptions of why in case the system gets mixed with 3pp classes… which, let’s be honest, I have written a ton of.

Least Special Powers (fighter): 2 major skill specializations, 2 minor skill specialization

No Spell Access (barbarian, brawler, cavalier, samurai, shifter): 1 major skill specialization, 2 minor skill specialization

Minor Spell-Like or Supernatural Access (gunslinger, monk, ninja, rogue, slayer, swashbuckler, vigilante): 2 minor skill specializations

1st-4th Level Spell Access (bloodrager, kineticist, medium, paladin, ranger): 1 minor skill specialization

1st-6th Level Spell-Like Access [No cantrips] (alchemist, investigator): 1 minor skill specialization available as a feat choice.

Major Skill Specialization: Select a class skill. You gain a bonus rank in this skill at every class level (not to exceed a number of ranks equal to your character level), and use your total ranks +9 as your effective number of ranks for skill unlocks with that skill.

Minor Skill Specialization: Select a class skill. You gain a bonus rank in this skill at every class level (not to exceed a number of ranks equal to your character level), and use your total ranks +4 as your effective number of ranks for skill unlocks with that skill.

Minor Skill Specialization Feat: You can expend a feat to gain a +4 bonus to the number of effective ranks you have in a class skill of your choice when determining your skill unlocks for that skill. You may only expend a feat for this bonus for a single skill.

Improved Combat Feats For Fighters

The fighter should be a viable, even attractive option for a Sword and Sorcery genre ttRPG. However, the fighter is the least flexible and utilitarian of all the standard PC classes in Pathfinder 1st edition. Not only are fighters often not the best combatants (with barbarians, cavaliers, and all the classes with full attack bonuses and access to up to 4 levels of spells frequently outdoing fighters in pure combat), but they have many fewer special abilities that other classes can’t access somehow. While there are “fighter feats” that were originally fighter-only, many classes (often hybrid classes of the fighter and another class) gain access to fighter feats at some level, and nearly everything else a fighter gets as an exclusive class feature is just a bonus or weakening of a penalty.

So, for our E6/Sword and Sorcery campaign, fighters get Improved Combat Feats, giving them options other characters just don’t have.

Improved Combat Feats: The bonus combat feats gained by a fighter grant the option to automatically apply the benefits of the feat’s combat trick (as normally gained through the Combat Stamina feat) without having to expend stamina points. Combat Stamina is not available for characters to select as a feat–fighter bonuses feats gaining combat tricks automatically for their bonus feats is the only way to access combat tricks in this campaign model.

If a combat trick has a variable stamina point cost up to a specific ability score modifier (such as Agile Maneuvers), the fighter gains the benefit of spending points equal to the maximum. For other variable costs, the fighter gains the benefit of spending stamina points equal to half their class level.

Additionally, a fighter ignores ability score minimums when determining if they meet prerequisites for combat feats gained with the bonus feat class feature. Everyone else may need a 13 Intelligence to take Combat Expertise, but fighters do not.

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About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on January 13, 2022, in Pathfinder Development and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. thegamemaster1965

    Hey Owen,

    That’s how Stargate SG-1 5e does it. They cap level at 3rd level. They also added a cool new Phase to play; Firefight Phase, which is distinct from Combat Phase.

    Peace,

    Rodney E. Barnes M.Div.

    ________________________________

  1. Pingback: Heroic Auras for Pathfinder 1st edition | Owen K.C. Stephens

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