Category Archives: Pathfinder Development

Revised Path: Draft Magic Missile

This is a first draft of a revised magic missile spell, for a potential Revised version of PF1. You can read about my design goals for such a project, and see an index of articles about it, here.

For this spell, one of the things I want to do is allow this iconic spell to remain an interesting choice in play at all character levels. Also, it’s ability to never miss and to damage insubstantial creatures are useful functions well past when it’s damage is worth taking your action to harm a foe.

I’ve added a few concepts here, new to PF1.

Minor Ritual: A minor ritual requires you to keep casting the spell until the beginning of your next turn, during which time you are flat-footed. You cannot cast a minor ritual while entangled. (I currently envision Entangled applying when you are wrapped up, grappled, or squeezing.)

Variable Level Spell: A variable level spell (VLS) can be prepared and cast at multiple spell levels. If you know a VLS at a given spell level you can prepare or cast it at that level or any lower spell level you can cast. Each time you gain a higher level of spells known you may choose to learn a VLS at that higher level, and then may replace the lower-level spell known with a new choice.

(Art used by permission. © Thomas Denmark.  All Rights Reserved.

Magic Missile

School evocation [force]; Level arcane 0-9
Casting Time standard action, full action, or minor ritual
Components V, S
Range 150 ft.
Targets up to five creatures, which must be within a 10-foot radius
Duration instant
Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance yes

You create a missile of magical energy that unerringly strikes its target, dealing piercing damage as a force effect. It cannot target creatures with total cover or total concealment. Objects are not damaged by the spell.

For every two caster levels beyond 1st, you gain an additional missile – two at 3rd level, three at 5th, four at 7th, and the maximum of five missiles at 9th level or higher. If you cast this spell as a full action, you gain one additional missile. If you cast it as a minor ritual, you gain two additional missiles.

If you shoot multiple missiles, you can have them strike a single creature or several creatures. A single missile can strike only one creature. You must designate targets before you check for spell resistance or roll damage.

The damage dealt by each missile is determined by the spell level magic missile is cast at.

0 / 1 pt.
1 / 1d4+1
2 / 1d4+2
3 / 1d6+2
4 / 1d6+3
5 / 1d8+3
6 / 1d8+4
7 / 1d10+4
8 / 1d10+5
9 / 1d12+5


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Revised Path Design Goals

A revised PF1. Something you could still use to run PF1 adventure paths, for example, but that had significant quality-of-life upgrades and improved organization,clarity, and all-levels play.

I’ve been thinking about these things for years, and even worked on it briefly before other projects came along (and then became years late). But, for whatever reason, this has been coming to the fore a ton in the past couple of days, so…

Just as the original game system went from 3.5 to a very different 4.0, and PF1 was a branch off 3.5 (without being exactly the same), the idea here is that with a second edition of PF2 being very different from PF1, this would be a branch off PF1 (without being exactly the same).

(Art by warmtail)

What would the design goals be? Well, to start:

1. Make the game more stable at all levels of play.

2. Make combat run faster.

3. Reduce the total amount of math, without reducing granularity or customizationability.

4. Faster, easier rules for making monsters.

5. Support archetypes in the core books, Make them a set of simple, easily understood rules allowing a wide range of classes to take the same archetypes (so, for example, if you make a Swordmaster archetype, most combatant classes can take it).

6. Nonspellcaster classes gain a wider range of built-in options that allow them to impact combat and noncombat encounters beyond doing damage.

7. A formalized set of rules for designing and running skill-based encounters.

8. Rename and reconceive “races” to eliminate ability score bioessentialism and delink cultural and biological benefits.

9. Establish three modes of spellcasting — prepared, spontaneous, and “blended” (like the arcanist), and allow any spellcasting class to be able to select any of them. Ensure the distinctiveness of spellcasters is not dependent entirely on their spells — if a sorcerer and a wizard both select spontaneous spellcasting, they should still feel distinct and different.

10. Both reduce the total number of classes (which sits at 39 even if only counting base, core, and hybrid classes from official PF1), and add new classes that fill missing niches (such as a good warlock).

11. Revised rules for crafting and magic item creation, with guidance explaining where some decisions come from (such as the sidebar notes I added in the Loot 4 Less product line).

12. Establish some “common” rule variants, including spell points and automatic bonus progression, which are kept in mind for all relevant sections of the game and expansions.

13. A thorough spell-by-spell review of the core spells to tweak for game balance.

14. A thorough item-by-item review of magic items, so those that do interesting things rather than just give bonuses can be gained at low enough levels for them to still feel like attractive choices.

15. Revise combat maneuvers to be simpler, faster, and worth attempting as PCs, without always being the best choice to shut down a foe.

16. Reorganize rules and review that all needed rules exist (such as burrow), are easily found, and simply explained.

17. Review and as appropriate add PF1 errata.

18. Rethink Prestige Classes.

19. Where lack of keywords or clear definitions have caused issues or clunky language (what is a “weapon?,” how many hands is a creature assumed to have?, can a horse use a magic glove?), clean up and streamline language and add late-game solutions to the core.

20. Review and revise favored class bonuses and traits, with an eye toward balance and not having some ability core to popular class builds being locked behind a single trait.

21. Review and revise subsystems introduced outside the core (such as downtime, building organization businesses and buildings, ruling countries, and so on), with an eye toward balance and having as few such systems as possible, integrated into core rules, while still supporting all the elements they allow for. 

22. Design the simplest possible introductory version of the game at the same time as the core. Such an introductory game should introduce the most important rules in a way that is 100% how those are handled in the core game, while still radically reducing the cognitive load to learn the game or teach it to others.

23. Find ways to reduce the work required for a GM to run the game, including both simplifying the math a GM is required to deal with when designing things and the effort needed to build encounters.

24. Radically simplify AoO rules without removing the tactical element they represent.

25. Radically simplify the planning needed to make specific character builds. This includes reducing feat taxes and feat chains, while still protecting spotlight time and level-locking some abilities to higher levels of play.

26. Review and revise conditions, to have as few conditions as possible without reducing granularity or breadth of the system.

26. Review and revise monster/NPC stat blocks, to make them easier for GMs to use and (if possible, but as long as I am listing all the things I’d *like) shorter and easier to read.

27. Review and revise how alignment is presented, and how rules interact with it.

Now, that’s a LOT. I’m not tackling all that all at once, and for the most part aren’t tackling it at all until I am in better shape, and have caught up on other massively-overdue projects. But I *have* taken a first, tiny stab at some of these ideas on social media.

I’ll show those off later this week, in a Draft 1.1 form.

Index of #RevisedPath Articles

Magic Missile


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Making All the PCs the Chosen One in Pathfinder 1st ed

Sometimes, you want to run a game where the PCs *are* all the Chosen Ones, the destined demigod reincarnated empowered megaheroes the world is waiting for.

But, you know, little baby 1st-level ones to start.

So, you want to give them some oomph that makes them *feel* special, without totally breaking your game. Bending it all to heck, yeah. But not breaking it.

Now, you can use the Mythic rules, or if even Horrifically Overpowered Feats (though you should never use HOF). But, here’s another option.

Let each player be stupidly good at one broad category, even starting at 1st level.

Here are some examples. Each option should be taken by no more than one character.

Axelord/Spearmaiden/Sword Saint: Character is +5 to attacks and damage with one weapon or weapon category. The character also applies a +1 enhancement bonus to such weapons (+2 at 5th, +3 at 10th, +4 at 15th, +5 at 20ths), and has the magus ability to swap enhancement out for some weapon magic abilities.

Gifted: Character gains additional spells knows and spells per day as a sorcerer of their character level, but selected off any one spell list (best if it’s a list from 0 to 9th level spells). The spells are all automatically Still Spells.

Greatest Something Of Their Generation: Select one ability score. The character is +6 to all ability checks and skill checks based on that ability score. They also get a +2 enhancement bonus to the score (+4 at 6th level, +6 at 12th level), and a +1 innate bonus to that score (+2 at 5th, +3 at 10th, +4 at 15th, +5 at 20th).

These aren’t designed to be *balanced* so much as separate — getting one of these options is great, but it doesn’t make you good at everything, so having other characters along is still a big help.

There are two massive multipublisher bundles of products on DriveThruRPG right now that are fundraisers for my growing medical debt. Each has more than $700 of pdfs, from 16+ different companies, for a dozen different ttRPGs (including some core rulebooks!), as well as maps, figures, stock art, and so on. They’re just $34.95 apiece, and will only be available through May 15th.

Bundle #1:
Bundle #2:

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Root of the Problem (A Pathfinder 1e Mini-Adventure)

I recently applied for a full-time, remote, full-benefits, game writing position at Foundry. (One thing I have learned in this industry is that you need to keep up with changing needs and markets.) While I didn’t make the final cut, I did get far enough along to do a timed writing test. I was given instructions at 10am by email, and had to return my work by noon. The test called for an adventure in any game system I wished, that included a missing druid as part of the plot and at minimum one encounter that included investigation, one that included talking to an NPC, and one that was potentially a fight. The main prompt was “The wilderness surrounding a remote town has become perilous. Wildlife that previously avoided contact with humans is now overcome with some form of madness or disease, attacking townsfolk with reckless ferocity. A local druid and longtime protector of the region has gone missing. The protagonists are tasked with investigating the nature of this affliction and resolving it, if possible.”

Obviously, with just two hours for a complete adventure I just managed a “first draft” level of manuscript. But I thought people might be interested in what a produced. So, with Foundry’s express permission, here is “Root of the Problem,” a Pathfinder 1st -edition Mini-Adventure for 3-4 characters of 1st level. By Owen K.C. Stephens.

(Art by Chaotic Design Studio, and not part of the original writing test)

Adventure Background
The Crosstimbers are a dense and ancient forest, filled with towering evergreen trees that rise up to 300 feet tall, smaller trees that grow in clumps so tight that their limbs cross and weave together to form natural platforms, and dense, thorny underbrush that is often impassable to anything larger than a rabbit. They are also the site of an ancient battle thousands of years ago, between a powerful necromancer queen and a court of faeries. Though relics of this battle are mostly buried deep beneath the roots and moss of the forest, their influence can sometimes reach up to the surface level.

One such ancient power is the Grave of Lord Vaugir, also known as the Baron of Stakes. A powerful wight warrior who served the necromancer queen, Vaugir had a particular hatred of vampires (even those who were theoretically his allies), and carried a number of wooden stakes he used to both unsure those he killed would not raise as vampires naturally, and to destroy any vampire he could successfully accuse of treachery to their queen. Lord Vaugir was slain by a group of faerie Swan Knights, and buried in a stone tomb hundreds of feet below the surface. While Vaugir himself remains trapped in the tomb, a few roots of one redwood have cracked one corner of his burial vault, and been tainted by his undead powers.

This influence has not gone unnoticed, as the dwarven druid Ferron Ironbark has long known one of the Crosstimber’s mighty trees was fighting some dread infection. Ironbark has monitored the tree for decades, doing his best to heal and nurture it in the hopes it would overcome what ailment was attacking it. However, at the last new moon, the necromantic energy finally took control of one of the redwood’s roots right at the surface becoming the Grave Root and, when Ferron came to visit it, it impaled him through the heart. Ferron’s apprentice, a brownie named Rumpleridge, managed to drag Ferron back to the druid’s grove, and has watched over the body to ensure it won’t rise as some form of undead.

The Grave Root still does not control more than one short length of the redwood it is attached to. It cannot free itself, and cannot, yet, taint the entire massive tree it’s attached to. However, it can reach a spring adjacent to where the redwood grows, and has been tainting that water for a month now. The spring is a common watering hole for native fauna, which are also being tainted by the Grave Root’s power. This makes them ravenously hungry and much more aggressive than usual, but also causes them to work together and not attack one another regardless of the natural instincts.

Not far from Ferron’s grove is the town of Highmoss-On-The-Hill (often just referred to as “Highmoss”), a walled settlement just outside the Crosstimbers. The people of Highmoss have long been on good terms with Ferron, and work to maintain a sustainable relationship with the Crosstimbers. They gather herbs and wild mushrooms, hunt only as much food as they can eat, drag out dead timber for their own use, and make sure any foray into the forest is able to come home before nightfall. While an occasional attack by minor monsters or wild animals is not unknown, in the past month anyone who stays in the Crosstimbers for more than 2-3 hours has suffered an attack by wolves, wolverines, a bear, or even packs of apparently-rabid squirrels. No one has seen Ferron (and the town is unaware he has died), and in recent days some townsfolk have been attacked within sight of Highmoss’s walls, not even within the Crosstimbers.

The Town Council has decided someone must venture into the Crosstimbers are travel to Ferron’s Grove, a 6-hour trip down a well-known path, and speak to the druid. This group should confer with Ferron, determine what is going on, and if possible assist him in fixing it. The more experienced hunters in town who would normally undertake such a missing are missing or too injured from wildlife attacks to attempt it, so the PCs have been chosen to do so. It is the height of summer, and daylight lasts 15 hours from sunup to sundown. If the PCs hurry it is hoped they can enter the Crosstimbers at dawn, consult with Ferron, solve the issue, and return before sundown.

Random Encounters
Wandering around the Crosstimbers is genuinely much more dangerous than usual, and there’s a chance the PCs may encounter some of the fauna that has been affected by the water tainted by the Grave Root. Until the water source is cleaned, for each hour the PCs are exploring the Crosstimbers there is a 20% chance of the PCs being confronted by one of following random
encounters. That chance doubles at night, and is halved if the PCs have been confronted by an
encounter in the past hour.
[Insert CR ½-1 random animal encounters here]

The Dead Hunter
The trail is marred by the smell of blood and signs of a vicious fight. Torn leather and cloth are scattered about, and a few tufts of black fur sit matted in old pools of blood.

This is the location where a Highmoss senior hunter, Apaxus Longshank, was attacked and killed by a pack of black wolves tainted by the spring next to the Grave Root. His body was dragged off the trail when they ate him, and a DC 10 Survival check to track or DC 15 Perception check to spot signs of the drag marks can locate him.

Examining the body show bite marks that can be identified as wolves, but the more significant clues are on Longshank’s own weapons. He fought with a masterwork handaxe and shortsword, which are still clutched in what’s left of his hands. They are bloody from the fight, but the blood is streaked with dark, oily slime. A DC 10 Knowledge (religion) check reveals this is necroplasm, a material sometimes used in place of blood by undead creatures. Finding it mixed with actual blood suggests the attacking wolves had been tainted by undead energy, but not yet true undead.

The Grove of Ferron Ironbark
The dense canopy of leaves and branches above break open, and light shines down to reveals a small, neat grove just off the path. There is a round hut with neatly fitted stone walls, a low, wide wooden door, and a roof apparently made of interwoven tree leaves and needles. A firepit sits in the middle of the clearing, with a wooden framework holding a small iron cauldron and
kettle side-by-side above it, but there is no fire now.

To one side of the clearing a neat pile of rocks has been build in an elongated dome roughly five feet long and three feet high. Laying next to it is a short humanoid, no taller than a human’s knee, with a bulbous head topped with a pointed felt cap.

This is the grove of Ferron Ironbark, but now it is his burial place. The brownie Rumpleridge build a stone cairn for his teacher and friend Ferron, and guards it all day and night. Rumpleridge won’t notice or acknowledge the PCs unless they call out to him, and even then, he’s slow to realize who they are or what they want. But eventually his enormous tear-streaked eyes will focus on them, and he’ll answer their questions as best he can. Rumpleridge wants to honor his teacher’s alliance with Highmoss, but is unwilling to leave the cairn for any reason. He plans to stay here through the summer and fall, and only come winter will he consider moving on.

Rumpleridge knows the general backstory of the Crosstimbers, but not the details of Lord Vaugir’s tomb or creeping influence. He does know Ferron was convinced some ancient, deeply buried evil was tainting a specific redwood an hour from the grove, at a major watering hole, and that a root from that tree impaled the druid. He gets tearful when he admits he saw the event,
and that it took all his strength and cunning to drag Ferron back home, and bury him.

Rumpleridge knows animals are going rogue, and can confirm that behavior began when Ferron was killed. It doesn’t occur to Rumpleridge that the Grave Root is infecting the nearby watering hole, but he does mention the infected redwood is “By the main watering hole in this section of woods,” and if a PC asks if the watering hole could be the source of the problem, Rumpleridge agrees the animals becoming vicious are all ones that would periodically drink there. As Ferron had been checking on the tainted redwood for decades, there is a well-worn path leading from the clearing here to the watering hole.

If attacked or pushed too hard to render aid, Rumpleridge will use his brownie powers to harass and confuse the PCs, but he won’t risk harming them. If he must, he flees into the Crosstimbers, and only returns to the cairn after the PCs have left.

The Grave Root
A large pond sits in a low point in the forest, a short outcropping of rocks surrounding it to the north and west, and the roots of a mighty redwood bordering it to the south and east. The surface of the pond’s water seems oily and black, with dark swirls spinning within it though there seems to be no breeze or current to cause the movement. At the southern edge of the pond, one root among the masses is darker, wetter, and more gnarled than the others, it’s 10-15 foot length pulsing slightly. The tip of the root moves, dipping itself into the pool to release a black ooze that joins the oily darkness covering all the water. The root then curls up, rising like a wooden tentacle, and sways back and forth.

The Grave Root uses the stats for a Draugir (HP 19, Bestiary 2), but with the following changes.
It has 15 feet of reach. It is immobile. It can fire a hunk of its own rotting bark as a target as a ranged attack that uses its slam attack, but has a range increment of 20 feet.

If the Grave Root notices the PCs, it immediately attacks. If destroyed, it breaks down into rotting mulch, and the oily blackness begins to clear from the water (taking 2-3 hours to be fully gone). If a PC drinks the water before it is clear, they are immediately confused and affected by the rage spell for 1d10 minutes.

The oily material on the pond is necroplasm, and PCs who found Longshank’s body can identify it as the same as was in the blood on his weapons. Without the Grave root, the water will run clear within hours, and the tainted animals return to normal within a few days.

Continuing the Adventure
Dealing with the Grave Root eliminated the immediate problem, but the risk presented by Lord Vaugir’s tomb remains. Striking up a friendship with Rumpleridge can help explore the region and safely travel further into the Crosstimbers. Seeking a senior member of the faerie court that claims rulership over the forest may reveal the true nature of the evils buried beneath it, and
lead to finding and dealing with Lord Vaugir, and other threats like him.

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Ranked Ability Score Checks, for Pathfinder 1e and Starfinder

It’s pretty common in Pathfinder 1st edition and Starfinder for GMs to occasionally ask for a raw ability score check (1d20+ability modifier), such as making a Strength check to muscle open a door, or making an Intelligence check to see if a character remembers some tidbit of information not related to a specific Knowledge skill. The games explicitly support this idea, but of course your ability score modifiers do not increase at anything like the speed of your skill bonuses, and since skills include ability score modifiers most GMs automatically scale the DCs of ability checks as a game increases in level to keep pace with skill DCs. This *isn’t* supported by the game rules, but it is perhaps inevitable.

Interestingly both 5e and Pathfinder 2e have a different DC/bonus progression that keeps raw ability checks competitive throughout a character’s career, on-par with attack and skill/proficiency checks. Some GMs and players have even called this out as one of the great advantages of those systems over older d20 game engines, and PF1 and Starfinder specifically.

However, if a GM and players want to have raw ability checks scale increase at roughly the same pace as skill bonuses, that’s easily arranged as a house rule. You just need to distinguish between a character’s ability score modifier (which adds to things like attack rolls, damage, skill checks, AC bonuses, and so on), and the characters ability CHECK, which is what you add to your d20 roll when making a “Strength Check” or “Intelligence Check.”

Note that this will allow characters to manage superhuman levels of ability score checks by mid-level, with heroes bursting stone doors off their hinges, holding their breath for minutes at a time, running marathons, and other events that are often ascribed to heroes in real-world ancient mythology.

Ranked Ability Score Checks

In addition to the actual modifier for your six ability scores, you need to track your ranks in each ability. Your ranks add to your modifier when making a raw ability check for that ability. Your ranks do not affect anything else you normally add your ability modifier (having +1 rank to Dexterity Modifier Checks does not increase your ranged attack, armor class, Reflex saves, or Dexterity-based skill checks, for example). You cannot have more ranks in an ability score check than your character level.

Select one ability score as your focus ability at 1st level. (In Starfinder, this must be your key ability score). You gain ranks equal to your level for that score’s ability checks, and an additional +2 focus bonus to ability checks for that ability. You gain three additional ranks at each level you may assign to any other ability scores.

If you gain a feat that grants you a bonus to all uses of one or more skill checks, it also grants you a +1 to one ability score used for one of the skills increased by the feat. For example, if you take Skill Focus: Swimming, you also gain a +1 to Strength checks. If you take Animal Affinity, you gain +1 to either Charisma ability checks (as Handle Animal is a Charisma-based skill), or Dexterity ability checks (as Ride si a Dexterity-based skill).

Feats that only grant a bonus to some uses of a skill check (such as endurance, which applies to some, but not all, Swim checks), you gain no special bonus.

Putting It All Together

So, let’s do an example.

Sashette the Seer is a 1st level human oracle. Her ability scores are Str 8, Dex 14, Con 13, Int 12 Wis 17, Cha 10. She decides to make Wisdom her focus ability, so she automatically gains one rank in it. For her remaining 3 ability check ranks, she puts one each in Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. So, her abilities, modifiers, check ranks and check bonuses look like this:

Sashette the Seer, 1st level
Str 8 (-1 modifier; +0 check ranks, -1 total ability check)
Dex 14 (+2 modifier; +1 check rank, +3 total ability check)
Con 13 (+1 modifier; +1 check rans, +2 total ability check)
Int 12 (+1 modifier; +0 check ranks, +1 total ability check)
Wis 17 (+3 modifier; +1 check ranks, +2 focus, +6 total ability check)
Cha 10 (+0 modifier; +1 check ranks, +1 total ability check)

At 2nd level, she automatically gains 1 rank in Wisdom (her ability focus), and continues to put 1 rank each in Dex, Con, and Cha.

Sashette the Seer, 2nd level
Str 8 (-1 modifier; +0 check ranks, -1 total ability check)
Dex 14 (+2 modifier; +2 check rank, +4 total ability check)
Con 13 (+1 modifier; +2 check rans, +3 total ability check)
Int 12 (+1 modifier; +0 check ranks, +1 total ability check)
Wis 17 (+3 modifier; +2 check ranks, +2 focus, +7 total ability check)
Cha 10 (+0 modifier; +2 check ranks, +2 total ability check)

At 3rd level, she decides she’s not as concerned about Constitution ability checks, but really wants to be better at Intelligence ability checks. Also, she takes the Skill Focus (Perception) feat, which gives her a +1 bonus to her Wisdom ability check total.

Sashette the Seer, 3rd level
Str 8 (-1 modifier; +0 check ranks, -1 total ability check)
Dex 14 (+2 modifier; +3 check rank, +5 total ability check)
Con 13 (+1 modifier; +2 check rans, +3 total ability check)
Int 12 (+1 modifier; +1 check ranks, +2 total ability check)
Wis 17 (+3 modifier; +3 check ranks, +2 focus, +1 feat bonus, +9 total ability check)
Cha 10 (+0 modifier; +3 check ranks, +3 total ability check)

For many groups, the additional bookkeeping won’t be worth the utility of a GM being able to use one set of scaling DCs for ability and skill checks. For others, a set of rules that mean a 10th level raging barbarian actually has a decent chance to smash in doors and lift portcullises will be a welcome addition. And some groups may even choose to replace the skill system entirely, allowing characters to be trained in any skill that is a class skill or they have a feat to grant a bonus to, and then using ranked ability checks in place of all skill checks.

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“Celestial Heroes,” An Adventure Sketch (With Notes for 4 Game Systems)

I’ve wanted to do a full write-up for this adventure for years, but never had time. So, here’s a sketch of the general idea.

Players their PCs are all very junior angels–celestial outsiders who mostly sort through prayer requests to see what to pass up to higher ranks of the divine bureaucracy, but who also get an occasional flash of excitement by being summoned by the faithful to aid in a fight. The players should give their characters names and personalities, but not worry about game stats yet.

The PCs are spending time sorting through prayers, and notice that a specific priest keeps praying for guidance about the impending destruction of the Astral plane (the “Catastralphe”). There’s nothing in their sorting guidelines about that topic, so protocol is to take it to a one-rank-higher angel, who assures them there is not such thing, and to file the prayer requests under “mortal paranoia.”

Then, on their way back to their duties, the PCs are summoned… by that selfsame priest! She’s 1st level, so she can only keep them for a limited about of time.

If you are running this as a 5e game, the priest has used a scroll with a 1st-level variant of conjure animals, and gets the PCs as minor celestials instead, but can’t give them verbal orders and she can only concentrate on it for up to 1 minute. If this is a PF 2 game, the PCs are summoned with a summon lessor servitor spell and can be around for up to a minute if the priest is able to maintain concentration. If PF 1, it’s summon monster I to call up celestial animals for 1 round. If Starfinder, it’s summon creature at a 1st-level spell, again for 1 round.

Rather than just sticking with the creatures those spells normally summon, allow each PC to select a creature of the same power level to represent their summoned form, AND let them pick anything vaguely appropriate for their appearance. If the rules would let them be an eagle, but they want to be a winged housecat, let their imagination loose. Note to the players that they are celestial spirits in a temporal mortal body regardless. Death has no consequence for them here.

(Art by lenka)

The priest doesn’t speak any of the languages they do, so they have to guess what she wants them to do — but they are summoned while she and four other people (clearly adventures — a fighting type in heavy armor, an arcane type, a sneak, and some kind of sage) are fighting for their lives (all already badly damaged) against what appear to be negative wind elementals (just use air element stats and have them do cold or shadow damage) in an ancient stone chamber that clearly depicts the Astral Plane being rended to destruction, and all the planes of the multiverse being flung apart (no longer able to connect to each other).

With a bit of luck the summoned celestial PCs can save the heroes (if not, just replace any that get killed in future encounters), and regardless of how the fight goes the PCs see that the ancient temple clearly has some real eldritch power connected to it, and the impending Catastralphe.

When their time is up, whether the priest and her adventuring party are safe or not, the PCs return to the angelic plane. They can take up the issue of whether the Catastralphe is real or not, but the celestial bureaucracy considers it to be much more likely that a set of junior angels misinterpreted what they saw than for there to be a true multiplanar threat the Angelic Host never heard of.

Later, the PCs get summoned again… but it’s clear that months have passed on the mortal plane, and the priest is now 3rd level, so she can use more powerful spells to summon more powerful allies. The PCs can maintain their appearance (or evolve it, perhaps from winged housecat to winged bobcat), get to choose new higher-level creatures for their ability scores. This time they are helping defend the priest and her adventuring allies who are being attacked at night, in an inn, by humanoid assassins who have no face, just a lamprylike fanged maws taking up the whole of the front of their heads. (Pick any CR-appropriate monsters and just give them new descriptions).

The priest is clearly surprised to see the PCs, suggesting they are not what she thought she was summoning, but she is also happy for their help.

Upon their return to the Angelic Host, if the PCs bring it up the event, they are directed to the Conjuration Control Department, where they discover there’s at least one other angel that believes in the Catastralphe, a planar traffic controller who is directing them to answer the priest’s summoning when she is showing to be near an important moment in her life.

The adventure goes on like this, with PCs working their way up through the ranks of the Celestial Bureaucracy, most angels not really believing in the interplanar threat, but grudgingly suggest the Pcs should look for specific clues when summoned. The GM should come up with a list of things — specific sigils, or eldritch currents, or the scent of the abyssal influence, so PCs can have investigating they can do when summoned. Meanwhile the priest continues to gain levels and summon the PCs with higher-and-higher level spells, months or years passing between the times they see her, and her quest is also clearly taking a toll on her. Some of her companions die, and are replaced. She loses and eye, from then on having an eyepatch when the PCs are summoned. At some point, she manages to learn their language, so she can speak to them when they arrive… but they can only go to her when she summons allies in a crucial moment in her life, so communication is always rushed during a desperate fight.

As the PCs gain influence among Angels, they are allowed to explore Forbiddings –places within the Heavens once kept by angels that fell and became devils. These encounters are to seek out lost lore on the Catastralphe, as their recurring encounters with cultists and supernatural entities on the Mortal Plane trying to kill the priest and her adventuring party suggest it might be real after all. However the Forbiddings are in the same heavenly reality as the PCs. While they use the same game stats as when they were last summoned for adventures in the Forbiddings, death there is permanent even for up-and-coming angels.

Eventually the combination of clues gained when summoned and when exploring the Forbiddings expose that the Catastralphe is real, and it is the eons-long plot of a fallen angel who wishes to rip the planes apart so it can become effectively a god of whatever bit of the multiverse it has access to after the Astral plane is destroyed. Once this revelation is in place, there are two more major encounters. First, the Fallen Angel can only be stopped with a weapon found in the most dangerous of Forbiddings, and that weapon can only be wielded by those who procure it, so the PCs must go get it. Second, the Fallen Angel’s ultimate base of operations is impossible for any celestial to enter without being summoned from within. So the PCs must wait for the priest to call them for aid one last time, and hope she does so in time for them to use their newly acquired relic weapon to stop the impending Catastralphe.

Obviously, this can be as quick as a 3-4 session mini campaign, or as long as a 1st-20th game, depending on how many encounters the GM decides to fill into this vague sketch of plot points. But I love the idea of Pcs being summon creatures (originally the idea was celestial badgers, back in 3.5 rules days), who have no fear of dying in most of their fights, but have to get anything they want done in the mortal realm done quickly, when summoned, while another fight is already going on. I also like the idea of players not having to make characters in any traditional sense, though it would be easy enough to let them pick special abilities as they “gained levels,” like being to reroll one attack roll per fight, or one saving throw, or teleport once, to represent their angelic nature growing stronger even as they hop from stat block to stat block as more and more powerful spells call them to battle.

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Contemplating 25 PF1 Alchemist-Hybrid Classes

What if there was a hybrid class for every conceivable combination of base, core, and occult classes?

Yes, it’d probably make a LOT more sense to just go with a full set of Talented Character Class write-ups, and let people mix-and-match themselves. For one thing, with 26 originating classes (as I’d treat the magus as a fighter/wizard hybrid class and the shifter as a druid/ranger, rather than either as a new base class), we’re talking about 650 classes. (And you think people complain about PF1 bloat NOW).

But, the idea still sticks with me. Which made me wonder, can I even come up with a core conceit for 650 hybrid classes? (Well, 638, since there are already 12 things I am treating as hybrid classes… )

So, I decided to take a look at one slice, of all potential alchemist hybrid classes. Not to write them at any level, just to see if I had ideas for each combination.

Here’s my initial list, for the alchemist (which already has the investigator as an alchemist/rogue hybrid).

Ragebringer (Alchemist/Barbarian – anger-based mutagens and elixirs) Brewester (Alchemist/Bard – drinks to make you happy, sad, or brave, and to fit any occasion) Glatisant (Alchemist/Cavalier – wide man of the court who rides a strange, ever-changing Questing Beast) Reliquarian (Alchemist/Cleric – priest that carries and empowers holy symbols and icons of the faith) Herbalist (Alchemist/Druid – uses secrets of nature to brew poultices and take on animal aspects) Steiner (Alchemist/Fighter – fights with weapon in one hand, mug of lord-knows-what in the other) Grenadier (Alchemist/Gunslinger – makes and fires strange alchemical grenades from a bombard) Antivenin (Alchemist/Inquisitor – for every divine foe, there is a potential alchemical antithesis) Phlogistor (Alchemist/Kineticist – distills anything down into its core eldritch elements) Lucid Dreamer (Alchemist/Medium – alter reality by projecting energy into your own dreams) Catalyst (Alchemist/Mesmerist – set up elixirs in yourself and others that are triggered by events) Purifier (Alchemist/Monk – use alchemy to purify the self to allow for better and more varied flow of ki) Psychomorph (Alchemist/Occultist – distill the essence of objects true nature into drinkable elixirs) Nectarian (Alchemist/Oracle – affected by the divine drink of the gods, not meant for mortal lips_ Alkahest (Alchemist/Paladin – Imbues substances with holy energy to undo any wicked force or creature) Orgonite (Alchemist/Psychic – Able to distill thought into matter, and matter into pure thought) Beastcrafter (Alchemist/Ranger – turns parts of your enemies into useful materials) Mutate (Alchemist/Shifter – slowly, intentionally becoming different than your beginning species) Uroboros (Alchemist/Sorcerer – create elixirs from your own vital energies and fluids) Ectoplasmic (Alchemist/Spiritualist – conjure spirit fluids with various effects) Metamorph (Alchemist/Summoner – use mutagens to become bizarre creatures with variable evolutions) ThiefFinder (Alchemist/Vigilante – an alchemical criminologist and mastermind) Leach (Alchemist/Witch – create imbalances in foe’s vital fluids to weaken them, or gain their power) Spagyric (Alchemist/Wizard – able to create much more potent elixirs, though not mutagens)

I doubt all of those ideas would survive contact with the design process, and some are pretty similar (do I really have two different ideas for the alkahest and antivenin?), but it’s a good enough starting point I’d feel like the idea had potential. I have no plans to make 24 more hybrid alchemist classes… but sometimes playing with an idea you know isn’t practical can lead to the development of an alternative you do like. It’s the game concept equivalent of doodling, with the goal not to produce a finished picture, but to see what interesting shapes evolve.

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Enlarging Dragons and Charming Outsiders in PF1

I’ve been contemplating how to create a broad set of rules on when you can safely create spells that affect different types of creatures in Pathfinder 1st edition. For example, enlarge person doesn’t work on dragons… would enlarge dragon be a reasonable 1st-level spell? At 1st level we have both charm animal and charm person… would charm outsider make sense too?

There are some tricky side cases that make a universal rule hard to be balanced. For example, if you could easily apply animal growth to any creature, you end up with a spell that can potentially make giants bigger than giant form II can, and at much lower level, and that is just a terror if applied to a summoner’s eidolon.

But if we follow the example of charm person to charm monster, there do seem to be a few ways to make at least a broadly applicable set of metamagic feats that can open up flexibility, just at the cost of both a feat, and a lot of extra spell levels needed.

Monstrous Spell [Metamagic]
You have learned to adapt eldritch energies normally directed at humanoids to affect a much wider range of targets.
Benefit: Monstrous Spell can only be used with spells that limit their targets to only the humanoid creature type. This ability removes the spell’s limitation of only working on humanoids. However, it does not change that some creature types may be immune to the effects of the spell–for example Monstrous Spell applied to enlarge person allows you to use the spell to enlarge a vermin, but Monstrous Spell applied to charm person does not allow you to charm vermin that are mindless and immune to mind-affecting effects.
A monstrous spell uses up a slot three levels higher than the spell’s actual level.

Unexclusive Spell [Metamagic]
You have learned to adapt eldritch energies normally directed at undead to affect a much wider range of targets.
Benefit: Unexclusive Spell can only be used with spells that limit their targets to only the undead creature type. This ability removes the spell’s limitation of only working on undead. For example, Unexclusive Spell applied to halt undead allows you to affect creatures of any type, though most nonundead targets are considered “intelligent” (excepting only those actually lacking an Intelligence score).
This feat only works on spells that specify one or more undead as their targets, not spells that interact with undead in different ways. For example, since create undead targets a corpse, rather than an undead, you cannot apply Unexclusive Spell to it in an effort to have a spell that allows you to create creatures of any type.
An unexclusive spell uses up a slot three levels higher than the spell’s actual level.

Supporting This Blog
I’m absolutely not immune to the money crunch in the game industry, so if you want to help ensure blog posts like this keep getting produced, please consider supporting my efforts through my Patreon campaign, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

New Feat for PF1: Vital Opportunity

Just one feat from me today. At the current level of support of my Patreon, most of my posts each week are *supposed* to be just a single, short idea, with only a few bigger posts like yesterday’s. Given how much catching up to do I have after the past month being lost to flu-then-pneumonia, I’m going to try to stick to that level instead of the massive bonus content I’ve been pouring out. If you’d like to encourage me to go back to more big posts, of course joining my patreon is a great way to do so!

I like giving martials who are able to follow more than one tactical path (often fighters) ways to have them overlap. This is for those who can both manage Combat Reflexes and Vital Strike, which don’t offer much synergy on their own.

Vital Opportunity (Combat)

You can choose to lay significant damage on a single foe who dropped their guard, rather than keep something in reserve for other opportunities.

Prerequisites: Dex 13, Combat Reflexes, Vital Strike, base attack bonus +8.

Benefit(s): The first time each round you make a melee attack as an attack of opportunity, you can apply the additional damage you would gain from Vital Strike, Improved Vital Strike, or Greater Vital Strike to the initial target of your attack. When you do so, you cannot take any other attacks of opportunity or reactions until the beginning of your next turn.

New Magic Weapon Special Abilities for Pathfinder 1st ed

So, let’s more-than-triple the number of magic weapon special abilities costing a +1 bonus you can have in your 1st-edition Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

And it all starts with Cleave.

Well, not the feat Cleave (at least not exactly). But instead, the magic weapon special ability mighty cleaving. And, when referring to a combat feat magic special ability by name, this article italicizes the property, but does not capitalize it. In other words, the power attack magic special ability lets you use the Power Attack feat with your weapon. (Alternatively you could place “mighty” in front of everything and use the gerund form of any feat name, so the mighty power attacking special ability lets you use Power Attack with that weapon… but that feels awkward to me, so I’m not doing it. What’s your preference?)

Mighty cleaving requires you to have the Cleave feat, but it then does as much as Cleave does (give you one additional cleaving attack a round)… but not as much as Great Cleave does (the normal next step in the Cleave feat chain). The existence of the mighty cleaving special ability tells us there is a range of combat feats that gaining access to through a weapon is worth a +1 bonus equivalent magic weapon special ability — but that it’s not all combat feats. That means if we can figure out a set of rules for what combat feats are appropriate for use as magic special ability, we potentially add a vast number of new magic options a GM can use to create fun, interesting, useful, balanced magic weapons. It also opens up some martial options for character’s who can’t manage to take those feats in the same way metamagic rods opened up metamagic feats even for spellcasters who don’t take the feats.

(There are also the training special ability, that gives you a feat but you still need to meet its prerequisites to use it, and the sylvan scimitar that give you “use of the Cleave feat” along with some other abilities under specific circumstances, so magic weapons granting some combat feats is clearly within a special ability power range.)

So, let’s look at defining a combat feat magic weapon special ability.

(Art by 2dmolier)

Combat Feat

Price +1 bonus; Aura moderate transmutation; CL 8th; Weight —


This special ability grants the use of one specific combat feat, selected when the weapon is created. What feat can be selected and how it can be used are subject to the Rules, outlined below.


Craft Magic Arms and Armor; Spells tactical adaptationCost +1 bonus

The Rules

The feat selected cannot be one that adds to all attacks or all damage (such as Weapon Focus or Weapon Specialization), or a flat bonus to AC (such as Dodge), and it must be a Combat feat. Its prerequisites can include no more than a single ability score, which cannot require greater than a 13 in the ability, no more than a single feat (which must also be a combat feat), no more than a single rank of a single skill, and nor more than a +1 base attack bonus minimum. It cannot include any other prerequisite (such as not having levels in a class with specific class features, or being of a specific species).

Thus, you could have improved grapple as a +1 bonus melee weapon magic weapon special ability, but not Greater Grapple (which both has two feat prerequisites and requires a +6 base attack bonus).

The feat benefit granted by a combat feat special ability only applies when you are wielding the weapon it is part of. If the feat modifies an attack, it only modifies attacks made with the weapon it is applied to. For example, a short sword with agile maneuvers only gives you Agile Maneuvers when you are actually wielding the short sword. Also, can only be applied to a weapon that can be used in the activity modified or allowed by the feat. For example, you can’t put the power attack combat feat special ability on a longbow.

While you can use the feat in a combat feat special ability without meeting the prerequisites to take the feat, you still have to meet any conditions listed in its benefit. For example, if you have a +1 distracting charge lance, you still only gain the benefit if an ally that also has the feat charges and hits a foe. This obviously suggests that combat feat magic weapon special ability built on teamwork feats are likely to be most popular in sets of multiple weapons to pass out to multiple users.

I did not have time to go through EVERY official combat feat to see which ones fit these rules, but here’ a hyperlinked list up through “F” anyway. 🙂

Agile Maneuvers, Aquadynamic Focus, Aquatic Combatant, Ascetic Style, Beast Hunter, Befuddling Initiative, Blind-Fight, Blinding Flash, Bloody Mess, Bludgeoner, Bodyguard, Call Out, Caster’s Champion, Cavalry Formation, Charging Hurler, Choir of Blades, Combat Expertise, Combat Reflexes, Combat Stamina, Combat Vigor, Coordinated Capture, Coordinated Defense, Coordinated Distraction, Coordinated Maneuvers, Coordinated Shot, Cornugon Stun, Covering Fire, Cracking the Shell, Cudgeler Style, Dazzling Display, Deadly Aim, Death from Above, Deceitful Incompetence, Defensive Combat Training, Demonic Style, Desperate Battler, Destructive Persuasion, Dirty Fighting, Disarm Partner, Distance Thrower, Distracting Charge, Diva Style, Double Slice, Empty Quiver Style, Enforcer, Eroding Strikes, Exotic Weapon Proficiency, Far Shot, Feint Partner, Flanking Foil,  Focused Discipline, Following Step, Footslasher, Fox Insight, Fox Style, Frightening Ambush, Furious Focus, Fury’s Fall, Gang Up, Giant-Killer Stance,