Category Archives: Pathfinder Development
It’s Friday the 13th, a day long associated with misfortune and evil spirits… and urban legends.
So, what would such a day look like in an RPG? Let’s examine 4 different ideas, in 4 different game systems–Pathfinder 1st and 2nd edition, Starfinder, and 5e.
On blood night, the moon takes on a dull reddish hue that lasts through the night. Blood night is always in autumn, but exactly what night it occurs is based on a complex set of rules only heirophants really seem to understand. What is known is that when a blood night occurs on the night of a full moon, the bad luck is far worse.
From sundown to sunup, any attack that normally only threatens a critical hit on a natural 20, or 19-20, instead threatens one on an 18-20. Additionally, attack rolls made to confirm critical hits gain a +8 circumstance bonus
When the ancient Cyclops Calendar begins the month of Maze on the week of a new moon, that is the day of the Minotaur’s Moon, when the Bull Man works to kill the small and weak. Goblins, in particular, greatly fear this.
On the Minotaur’s Moon, everyone has Doomed 2.
The kasatha and shobad calendars do not normally line up, being from different worlds with different year durations. But both have a “wyrd” day that is observed in grim reserve, and every few years those days happen to overlap by a period of 11 to 17.5 hours.
During that “which weird,” all Reflex saving throws take a -4 penalty.
When the Imperial Calendar gets a full day off from the Seasonal Calendar, a day must be added to adjust the beginning of Spring. This day is seen as a gate through which evil dead spirits can speak into the world to so discord for one say, and weaken the resolve of heroes, and is known as Lichgate.
On Lichgate, when making a Wisdom saving throw, you roll twice and use the lower result as if you had disadvantage. However, if your unused result is enough to resist the effect, you only suffer the consequences of the failed saving throw for 1 round. After that you shake off the evil spirits that weakened you, and are no longer effected. But if both die rolls are failures, the effect’s duration upon you is doubled.
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So, I happened to mention a “ShadowFinders” campaign on social media a few times in the past few weeks, leading a number of people to ask “What the heck is ShadowFinders, and when does it come out?”
And now I’ll have a place to point them to, at least for the moment. And the answers are… “A theoretical modern Pathfinder campaign I have been noodling and, as far as I know, never.”
I know, not very satisfying.
The thing it, I already have TWO campaign settings mulling about that I work on when I get what I laughingly refer to as “Space Time.” I’ve been working on-and-off on the Really Wild West (a campaign hack for Starfinder), and more recently Sorcerers & Speakeasies (a campaign setting for 5e). Those are both mix-modern-and-fantasy settings, with Really Wild West having a great deal more material done for it (having begun working on it more than 2 years ago), and Sorcerers & Speakeasies currently having an actual for-sale product currently being designed by a freelancer.
So, clearly, I already have my hands full with modern fantasy pastiche ideas for two game systems that I don;t have time to move forward at full speed as it is. So why would I add another?
To some extend, I can’t help it.
I didn’t become an RPG game designer because that was my life goal. I slid into it sideways, by loving games (especially RPGs), and making up stuff for my own home games (mostly RPGs), and wanting to turn my hobby into a revenue-neutral pastime that paid for itself. (You can read more detailed accounts of my nearly-accidental entry into my 20+ year RPG design career at “From the Freelancing Frontline,” in a series of articles at EN World.)
And, it’s still one of my primary hobbies. Which means, I am still having ideas about things I’d like to run as games, or add to games, or even play in games. Now, a lot of that content ends up in products I write or develop–I find it easiest to work on a game system if I am playing that system. (I know some rpg designers prefer not to be frequently playing the game they are working on, and given how great many of those designers are I have to say that works for them. I don’t think it would work well for me.)
But a lot of it DOESN’T end up in my professional writing. Now, some of that is for legal reasons (yes I have thoughts on Jedi in Starfinder, but unless I create a totally different Owen-as-fan-only space, I’m never going to share them). Some of it is because it’s material I’d only want to use in a context where I knew the people involved and could tailor it to match their preferences and playstyles. But some of it is just because there hasn’t been a good match yet, and/or because I haven’t had the time.
And that last category is the weird limbo where ShadowFinders exists.
I have several solid ideas for ShadowFinders, as a modern supplement for Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Essentially a smaller stand-alone hardback book that is a complete RPG and 100% compatible with the Core Rulebook, but focuses on a modern, urban fantasy game. I have ideas on how I’d save space (many fewer ancestries and classes, likely only occult and primal magic), how to link it to existing cosmology (some primal magic comes from Egypt, which once had strange portals to another Egypt-like land in another world, but most magic is occult material that entered the world in through strange events involving Rasputin), and how it would work with the existing rules (as a modern supplement, with material you could use in a 100% fantasy setting, or could add to a fantasy setting that happened to already have alien spaceships and guns in it in limited locations).
But that approach works best if it’s a book Paizo publishes… and that is both unlikely (I have some idea how hard it is for Paizo to manage to both maintain its currently offers AND produce a new core rulebook with a new setting), and if it did happen would most likely not involve me in any major capacity. I have thoughts on that too, of course (involving Paizo deciding to outsource creation of a SahdowFinders rpg to keep costs and down and experiment with freelance production and development), but that’s not particularly likely either. (Never say never, but be realistic with your planning.)
So, that leaves me with a name and idea I like but that would work best in production circumstances that aren’t going to happen soon if ever, no spare time, two more similar projects already further along… and tons of ideas for a thing I can’t take time to move forward on right now.
So is ShadowFinders dead? No, definitely not. But it is in a holding pattern, neither being given up on nor getting any resources to speak of at the moment. One of the few things I know is that I never know what I’ll be working on in 3 years, and often have no idea what I’ll be working on in 1 year.
It PROBABLY won’t be any version of ShadowFinders…
Unless, of course, it gets a huge positive response from a Patreon crowd that grows large enough to support even more of my time going to working on such things. 🙂
So, obviously, I’ve been working in a lot of different game systems recently. With the 52-in-52 program, I’m developing the same game content for Pathfinder 1st ed, Pathfinder 2nd ed, Starfinder, and 5e.
It’s been a fascinating view of how the different game systems look at game elements that have the same name, but different functions.
For example, feats.
In Pathfinder 1e and Starfinder, feats are cross-character goodies that are generally designed to be optional, and sometimes tie into class design (such as for the fighter and soldier), but not always.
For Pathfinder 2e, feats are the quintessential character ability, and different kinds of feats are crucial to your ancestry, class, and any archetype you take.
For 5e, feats are entirely optional, and if taken come in place of ability score advancements. Each feat is more potent in many ways, but you can make a character with a single feat, or no feats, and no class depends on feats for any part of its core functions.
As an example, we’re going to take a PF1 teamwork feat, and present it (as a non-teamwork feat) in different versions, one for each of the four game systems.
Here’s the original, a PF1 Teamwork feat
Allied Spellcaster (Teamwork)
With the aid of an ally, you are skilled at piercing the protections of other creatures with your spells.
Prerequisite: Caster level 1st.
Benefit: Whenever you are adjacent to an ally who also has this feat, you receive a +2 competence bonus on level checks made to overcome spell resistance. If your ally has the same spell prepared (or known with a slot available if they are spontaneous spellcasters), this bonus increases to +4 and you receive a +1 bonus to the caster level for all level-dependent variables, such as duration, range, and effect.
Here’s a new PF1 version, that isn’t a teamwork feat
You can aid an allied spellcaster, adding your magic power to their own.
Prerequisite: Caster level 1st.
Benefit: Whenever you are adjacent to an ally who can cast spells, as a standard action you can expend a spell slot or prepared spell of 1st level or higher to attempt to boost their spellcasting ability. This requires a Spellcraft check, DC 10 + double the level of the spell slot expended. On a successful check, you increase their caster level for the next spell they cast before the beginning of your next round by an amount equal to the level of the spell or spell slot expended.
You can also take eldritch power from a willing adjacent spellcaster to boost the power of your own spells. The allied spellcaster must ready to grant you a spell slot or prepared spell of 1st level of 1st level or higher on your turn. If they do so, you make the same Spellcraft check as a swift action and, if successful, for the next spell you cast this round your caster level is increased by an amount equal to the spell level your ally expended.
*So, that plays with both action economy and resource management, but it lets you play the spellcaster who can work in a group without anyone else having to also have the feat in question.
Here’s the same spell for Starfinder.
You can aid an allied spellcaster, adding your magic power to their own.
Prerequisite: Caster level 1st.
Benefit: Whenever you are adjacent to an ally who can cast spells, as a standard action you can expend a spell slot of 1st level or higher to attempt to boost their spellcasting ability. This requires a Mysticism check, DC 10 + triple the level of the spell slot expended. On a successful check, you increase their caster level for the next spell they cast before the beginning of your next round by an amount equal to the level of the spell or spell slot expended. If the spell does damage and does not have a duration, area, or damage calculation based on level, you can instead grant +3 damage per level of spell you expended.
You can also take eldritch power from a willing adjacent spellcaster to boost the power of your own spells. The allied spellcaster takes a standard action to imbue you with energy by expending a spell slot of 1st level or higher on your turn. If they do so, on your turn you can make the same Mysticism check as part of the action to cast your next spell and, if successful, gain the benefits listed above. If you do not cast a spell within 1 round of being imbued, the additional spell energy is lost.
*That’s very similar, though it makes an adjustment for the fact that Starfinder doesn’t generally have damage affected by caster level and readied actions work differently caused us to make some adjustments.
Here’s a version for 5e.
Prerequisite: Caster level 1st or higher
You are skilled at magic manipulatipons. Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1.
You can cast a spell to boost the effectiveness of an allied spellcaster within 60 feet, rather than its normal effect. If allied spellcaster casts a spell of their own that is no more than one spell level higher on their next turn, they have advantage on any attack roll the spell requires, or one target of their choice has disadvantage on any saving throw the spell requires.
An ally can cast a spell to boost your effectiveness rather than the spell’s normal effect, giving you the same benefit on your next turn.
*Things in 5e are simpler. Like, way simpler. Advantage or disadvantage is 75% of how the game handles things. And they are pretty big bonuses (work out to about a +4 bonus on a d20), so it’s okay that this only applies to spells of a level close to the level you expend.
That said, weaker feats in 5e also give you a +1 to one ability score (since you gave up a +2 to get the feat), which applies here given how circumstantial this is.
Here’s the same feat for PF2
ALLIED SPELLCASTER FEAT 2
Prerequisites: Expert in Arcana, Nature, Occultism or Religion
You can use the aid reaction to assist an adjacent ally when they cast a spell. This requires a successful Arcana, Nature, Occultism or Religion check (you must be expert in the selected skill) with a DC of 20 + double the level of spell the ally is casting. You must expend a spell slot of 1st level or higher, and you gain a bonus to your skill check equal to the level of the spell expended. You grant the ally a +2 circumstance bonus to their attack roll, or a +1 bonus to the save DC of their spell.
An adjacent allied spellcaster can attempt to use the aid reaction when you cast a spell. This works the same way, except you must make the Arcana, Nature, Occultism or Religion check.
*Pf2 uses a universal proficiency system for everything, so a +2 bonus matters as much at 15th level as it does at 5th level. There’s already an aid action which might be usable if a spell required an attack roll, but it’s not clear how it would apply and it certainly won’t boost save DCs. This cut through that, and is a skill feat spellcasters might really appreciate.
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This is the sixth in my series of class-focused d20 Design Diaries. I suspect I only have a couple more posts to go on this topic, but we’ll see how the topics actually shake out (and what kind of feedback I get).
If you followed class design steps in the order I have written about them, we’ve settled on an appropriate and interesting class concept, set up the right class progression tools, made sure we are following (or at least only breaking by intent rather than by accident) the game’s style and etiquette, looked at how many options you want for each level of your class and how that impacts complexity, and discussed spell access and progression.
But we still need to talk about spell lists. Specifically, do you give your new class access to one (or more) existing spell lists, or make a brand-new spell list? And, it turns out, that.s a pretty complex question that depends very much on the game system you are using.
So, you know, let’s start by saying studying what that system does and how it handles those questions.
Also, it’s very important to know if you are building expansions classes that are in addition to a *core* set of pre-existing classes or are building a whole set of classes from scratch. Most of the advice here is directed at the former case. If you are in the latter situation, there may not even be pre-existing spell lists for you to borrow from. In that case you’ll need to make decisions about how many class lists to build from scratch, and the following advice may still be applicable to that decision.
Certainly the more you want a spell list to have a very strong theme tied to the class’s concept, the more you should consider a unique class spell list. The more you want the spell list to interact and grow well with other publisher’s content, the more you should consider using an existing class list.
In Pathfinder 1st edition, classes have access to a hodgepodge of class-specific lists, sharing class lists, and mixing class lists. The bard has its own spell list for example (though the skald later gains access to it as well), while the warpriest just has access to the cleric list (though it gets most spell levels later in its own level progression, when they are less powerful compared to the challenges being faced). Both sorcerers and wizards use the sorcerer/wizard spell list, though it has specific spells only one of the classes can take. Hunters get both druid and ranger spells (and gain access to ranger spells much earlier than rangers do, potentially making them more powerful compared to the challenges faced when you first access them), but inquisitors have a unique spell list.
Counting only official classes, no alternate classes, and only actual spell lists (as opposed to formula lists for alchemists and investigators), by the end of its run Pathfinder 1st d had 16 separate spell classes. On top of that, all of the class spell lists are defined as being arcane, divine, or occult.
In that environment, it seems insane to create a brand new unique class list. First, there are tons of lists with different themes already. Second, each of those lists has been expanded by so many supplements (official and otherwise) that any new lists is either going to fill a small book on its own, or have many fewer options than the 16 existing lists. Further, if someone is adding content from other publishers, those 3pp spells won’t even know to suggest what new spells should be on your unique class spell list.
By the same token, by the time a game has 16 unique spell lists, it’s hard to claim a 17th will be the bridge too far for design weight.
Pathfinder 2nd edition, as a counterexample, has only 4 spell lists. Absolutely every class has access to the arcane, divine, occult, or primal spell list. Some classes can pick what spell list they access based on other class features (such as the sorcerer), and many classes have access to a very small number of “focus spells” unique to their class. This includes both classes with access to a traditional spell list (such as the bards and their occult spells), and classes with no other spell access (such as champions). While it would be possible to build a whole 5th spell list (akashic magic, perhaps, or runic magic), this would likely only make sense if designing multiple classes that accessed it, or perhaps writing class variants of existing classes that accessed your new magic type. However, adding a small number of focus spells to any new spellcasting class, but otherwise tying them to one or more of the 4 existing lists, seems an excellent way to both benefit from that class having unique and flavorful spells of its own (new focus spells) and benefiting from ties to a growing standard spell list that other books and companies can expand. Pathfinfer 2nd ed also has things such as spell rarity which could be used to create “new” spell list options (such as creating a magister class that has access to common spells for multiple lists, but can never gain uncommon or rare spells).
By contrast Starfinder goes the opposite route, and give every spellcaster their own unique spell list.
Starfinder only has 3 official spellcasting classes so far of course, and each also has the same level of spell access and spells/day. That certainly sets an expectation for players that a class focused on spellcasting would likely follow the same path. There are many potential reasons to not go that route (if creating a mechanic/technomancer hybrid class, the Dronemancer, that only had access up to 3rd level spells, it might well make sense for it to have the technomancer spell list), but again the key point is to know what tools are at your disposal, and study how the core game (or similar games, if you are starting from scratch) use them.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed also gives each class its own spell list (at least in the Player’s handbook), including the sorcerer and wizard, who shared a spell list when the sorcerer was first introduced in 3rd edition. There is greater variety in both spell access (paladins and rangers only get up to 5th level spells), and how the class uses spells (warlocks and wizards have very different game mechanics dictation how they interact with and use their spells). The larger number of lists makes it more likely that you can match a specific class’s theme with an existing class list or combination of lists, but it also drives home player expectation in much the same way Starfinder does.
As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that whether a game has dozens of class spell lists or just three, d20 games almost always have some basic spells that appear on multiple (or even all) spell lists. the most flavorless and utilitarian spells are often there, from detect magic to light. By the same token, most such games have at least a few types of spells that are kept off specific spell lists, in the tradition of “clerics don’t cast magic missile, wizards don’t heal.”
But honestly, that’s another whole blog post worth of commentary.
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This is the fourth section of Part 22 of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. You can go back and read previous entries where we converted every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and I shared my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats here.
This is it. The very last feats from the PF Core Rulebook that did not exist in Starfinder. This has been my longest ongoing blog series ever. I’m almost sad.
But, let’s get to them, shall we? We begin with Unseat.
A confession. Having played hundreds (in all honesty, maybe thousands) of sessions of Pf and the games that came before it, I have never seen Unseat be used, or even taken by a character, even once.
It’s a super-specific jousting feat. Yo have to be mounted to use it. And attacking with a lance (and only with a lance). And your target has to be mounted. AND you have to charge to use it. And if you hit, you can TRY a bull rush to unseat the target.
That’s so many rules I’d be inclined to just add them to what a lance can do without needing a feat for it. Plus, does this mean that without this feat, I can’t use trip or bull rush to take a mounted foe out of their saddle? Or only that I can’t do it as part of a charge attack with a lance?
But we HAVE to make a Starfinder version, so:
You can rip foes from the mounts and vehicles.
Benefit: When a foe that is mounted or in a vehicle provokes an attack of opportunity from you, you can make a bull rush or trip combat maneuver instead of a melee attack. If you succeed, you pull the target off their mount or out of their vehicle, and leave them prone in an adjacent space.
I’m still not sure how often that’ll come up, but at least knocking folks off their motorcycle has genre-emulation value.
Next up is Weapon Finesse. Which, like so many PF feats, requires things (like a definition of “light weapons”) that Starfinder doesn’t have to allow something (switching some melee weapons from Strength to Dexterity) Starfinder isn’t designed to allow. In fact Starfinder already essentially decided that light weapons are “operative weapons,” and anyone can use their Dexterity to attack with them, and no other weapons should be allowed to do that under any circumstances.
But there is one thing that Starfinder’s system could allow for — some way for operatives to make trick attacks with different weapons than normal. Not to be more effective (operatives are FINE on the power scale), but to support different character concepts and variable tactical styles.
WEAPON FINESSE (Combat)
You can use bulkier, slower weapons to place attacks with additional effects.
Prerequisites: Trick attack class feature.
Benefit: You can use any weapon to deliver a trick attack. When you do so with a non-operative melee weapon, you may choose to use your Dexterity modifier, rather than Strength modifier to add to your attack bonus. You can only apply the trick attack to a single creature, regardless of how many the attack affects, and must make the appropriate skill check. For that one trick attack, you deal either just your trick attack damage +1 per operative level (with its damage type determined by the weapon), or you do the weapon’s damage without any bonus from your trick attack. In either case, you can apply any other effect your trick attack imposes onto the target you trick attack.
There are things this does, and things it does not do. It won’t increase any character’s single-target damage-per round output, and that’s intentional. It also won’t allow a solarian (for example) to ignore all Strength in favor of Dexterity, and that’s intentional. It is of most use to operatives who want increased flexibility. You may not do any more damage to one target when you deliver a trick attack with a grenade, but you still get the rest of the effect of a grenade. making unarmed attacks as trick attacks won’t bust your damage curve, but it’s a lot better than normal trick attacks if you’ve been disarmed.
Okay, last one.
Whirlwind Attack is a PF feat that normally comes in at mid- to high-level play that has 7 prerequisites (though a fighter could theoretically meet them all by 4th level), that allows you to make one melee attack against every target within reach. Again, a chunk of that is balanced by the fact that in PF, a good chunk of your Damage Per Round (DPR) is based on making more attacks each round. In Starfinder, your DPR increase is much more strongly tied to each attack doing more damage, so getting to make a single attack against a large number of foes is much more powerful.
We could probably do something with forcing you to take the full attack -4 to your attack rolls, and then maybe another -2 or so… so it’s only useful against lower-level foes, and even then you won’t hit all of them, so if you connect with one or two your DPR is reasonable…
But wow that doesn’t sound like fun or satisfying as a player. Let’s try something else.
WHIRLWIND ATTACK (Combat)
You can surround yourself with lighting-fast, shallow strikes.
Benefit: When you use the full-attack action, you can give up all your other attacks and instead make one melee attack against each opponent within reach. Make a single attack roll, and apply it to the AC of every target in reach. Roll damage once, and apply half the value to every target you hit.
That’s easy to access, it lets you do a little damage to a lot of foes (which is closer to how Whirlwind Attack generally works in Pf anyway), has a much better change of doing SOME damage to multiple targets. If you want to lay about and put a hurt on a lot of people up close this works, even if you won’t be able to pile nearly as much on any one target.
AND THAT’S IT!
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This is the third section of Part 22 of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.
We have come to the last couple of two-weapon related feats; Two-Weapon Defense and Two-Weapon Rend. It would have made sense to write these back when we were writing the base Two-Weapon Fighting feat and it’s follow-up feats, but since we were only checking all the prerequisites for Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, and didn’t check to see if there were any more thematically-linked feats (such as Double Slice, or today’s examples), it didn’t come up.
So, Two-Weapon Defense is a combat feat that grants bonuses to AC. We’ve made major changes to every one of those we’ve run into on this project and for Two-Weapon Fighting we need to adjust:
Not a darn thing.
Seriously. With the advent of shield bonuses being defined in COM, Two-Weapon Defense works perfectly as-written. Even the prerequisites are reasonable. We can just add it to the game as-is. (If it makes sense and ain’t broke, don’t adjust it). We could require the two weapons to be melee weapons (although PF didn’t–apparently twin hand crossbows is fine), but the visual of the two-pistol character blazing away to give themselves cover fire is too cool to restrict even if it makes slightly less logical sense.
TWO-WEAPON DEFENSE (Combat)
You are skilled at defending yourself while dual-wielding.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Two-Weapon Fighting.
Benefit: When wielding a double weapon or two weapons (not including natural weapons or unarmed strikes), you gain a +1 shield bonus to your AC.
When you are fighting defensively or using the total defense action, this shield bonus increases to +2.
And that bring us to Two-Weapon Rend which… does need change. I’ve never been convinced the PF version of Two-Weapon Rend was balanced. At first glance it looks like just a little bonus damage, but later FAQs made it clear that it also benefits from damage bonuses that apply to both attacks that trigger it (such as Power attack and potentially sneak attack) but not things that specifically are weapon damage bonuses (such as weapon enhancement bonuses and spells such as divine favor. Which means it is far, far more powerful for cavaliers, paladins, and rogues than for most other classes.
Any damage bonus is always problematic with Starfinder feats, especially those that won’t really have a drawback for a large portion of characters. While it’s nice for being multi-armed being useful, we don’t want a feat to radically change that usefulness if that calculation wasn’t considered in creating the core rulebook.
Luckily the feat’s name says you “rend,” not “do extra damage” so there are other options.
TWO-WEAPON REND (Combat)
You can make the intersection of damage from different weapons hurt.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Two-Weapon Fighting.
Benefit: When you hit and damage the same target with attacks from two or more weapons in the same round, it must attempt a Fortitude save (DC 10 +1/2 your base attack bonus +your key ability score modifier). If it fails, it is sickened for 1 round for ever 5 item levels of the lower-level of the weapons (minimum 1 round). This is a pain effect.
Now, why did we say it was a pain effect?
Pain IS one of the descriptors Starfinder lists in the core rulebook. Pain effects note “Creatures that are immune to effects that require a Fortitude save are immune to pain effects.” It doesn’t come up that often, but it also helps explain why rending someone causes a sickened effect, so it’s worth the extra wordage.
Okay, that just leaves three feats, all of which we’ll tackle tomorrow.
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