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d20 Design Diary: Feat Prerequisites

One of the things I have mentioned several times in my ongoing series of articles converting Pathfinder Core Rulebook feats to Starfinder, is that Starfinder tends to have much less restrictive, less extensive feat prerequisites. What I haven’t done is go into any particular details about WHY that is the case, or how it impacts gameplay, or why Starfinder has any feat prerequisites at all.

To understand the answers to those questions, you need to understand why any feat has prerequisites, and what the different game function of various categories of prerequisites are. Since the core concepts here tend to apply to a broad range of d20 games, they seemed deserving of their own Design Diary (which, if popular, may be the first in a series of such posts looking at the unwritten logic behind various elements of d20 game design).

There are basically three kinds of feat prerequisites.

The first are balancing prerequisites, designed to limit which characters can take a feat based on character build. These include things like ability score minimum (so feats that make a character seem strong are limited to characters who have some minimum level of Strength), level minimums (so you can’t get the benefit until a certain level of options have entered the game in the form of class features, spells, and items tied to that level), and base attack bonus minimums (which ensure lower-level characters can’t get the feat immediately, and that full attack-bonus classes have access to them earlier and therefore can also get more of them). These tend not to be things players have to plan for–eventually a character hits these values, or doesn’t.

(A quick aside — Ability scores are slightly different, in that they can be a case where you can plan to gain the needed score to pick up a feat eventually. This is one of the reasons Starfinder and Pathfinder 2e grant you boosts to more than just one ability score when you hit the appropriate level–to allow characters to pick up feats they didn’t original qualify for due to a secondary or tertiary ability score without requiring the character give up boosting their primary ability score. It’s also why ability score prerequisites are always an odd numerical value–since ability bonuses are tied to even scores, having feats have odd scores as prerequisites can be the only gem mechanical difference between a 12 and 13 Intelligence, for example. In turn, this is why themes grant a +1 ability bonus in Starfinder. The design is intended to ensure any character build can work with any theme, since the theme does not change what your ability score modifiers are. But since they do cause one of your ability scores to have an odd value, taking the mercenary theme can be the difference between qualifying for Heavy Armor Proficiency, or not.)

The second type of prerequisites are those where just by the nature of the rules for someone to be able to do what a feat grants, they much have some previous ability. This is a like our Starfinder version of the Extra Rage feat, which gives you a benefit with a specific soldier fighting style–obviously if you don’t have that style, the feat is useless, so the style becomes a prerequisite. Often these are things a character is going to have as part of their core concept, or not. It’s less common for a character to evolve to gain these things, except as level locks (a feat that requires 7 ranks in a skill is level locked in that you can’t get it before 7th level, but most characters won’t pick up those ranks just to access the feat).

A subtype of this are prerequisites that are just a good idea for a character to have to make things effective–for example combat maneuvers in Starfinder are difficult to succeed at, so we are adding Improved Combat Maneuver with the appropriate maneuver as a prerequisite for each of our Greater combat maneuver feats. You don’t have to be good at disarming things game mechanically to theoretically benefit at the additional benefits for Greater Disarm, but it makes sense to avoid having frustrated players who end up with extra options for a combat maneuver they rarely succeed with by requiring them to be fairly good at the basic option before taking an advanced option.

The third type of feat prerequisites are conceptual ones, where it makes sense within the setting for you to have to be able to do something before you can gain a feat’s benefit, but they aren’t directly tied together. This includes things like not being able to use a skill for some advanced task unless you have ranks in it as a prerequisite, or needing a simple improvement before you get a complex improvement. This is where Pathfinder feats often have long chains of prerequisites which may have nothing to do with the game mechanics of a feat, they exist purely because it was considered logical by the designer. For example, you can’t get Greater Disarm in Pathfinder without Combat Expertise, since obviously disarming someone is an expert combat maneuver. But that also means you can’t get it without a 13 Intelligence, and that you must pick up the purely-defensive Combat Expertise feat before you can get the unrelated offensive combat maneuver-boosting Greater feat.

One effect of this is that it tends to create niche protection for what characters can gain what abilities. In Pathfinder if you have a fighter and a rogue in the group, and only the rogue has a 13 Intelligence, the rogue is more likely to be the only character with Greater Disarm because the fighter likely won’t be motivated to get the 13 Int AND Combat Expertise just to pick it up. However, this niche protection is haphazard–the Pathfinder fighter may have a much higher Combat maneuver Bonus and thus still be better at disarm than the rogue even with no resources dedicated to the idea–and it can create frustrations where a player finds some feat that feels thematically appropriate, but the feat has a chain of 7 prior feats they must have to take it, requiring the character be dedicated to that one concept for many levels of game play.

This category is where Starfinder has cut out a lot of prerequisites, so characters are less likely to be required to access unrelated feats to qualify for the things that interest them. As much as possible, the game is designed to allow any character of an appropriate level, who has the basic concepts to support a new feat option, to be able to select that feat option.

Long feat chains can also be designed in an effort to enforce game balance, in two different ways. First, if a feat is under-powered on its own, having it serve as the prerequisite for a more-powerful-than-average feat can, theoretically, lead to characters being more balanced overall. However, this means a player must choose the under-powered feat first, and live with its underwhelming performance until the more advanced feat can be gained. Second, if a feat has a huge list of prerequisites it obviously won’t be taken by low-level characters who don’t have that many feat slots. However if the feat is powerful enough, players will constantly seek ways to gain the prerequisites through other means, and may end up picking it up earlier than its designer intended. If a feat shouldn’t enter the game until 7th level, it’s simpler to just make being 7th level a prerequisite.

HUGE THANKS TO MY PATRONS

This post almost didn’t happen today, because my Patreon had fallen below the support level where I post 5 times a week. So I held it back, in the hopes I could post it later in the week if the Patreon support went up. But within a few hours of that becoming common knowledge the Patreon surged back up, so we’re back to 5 posts a week!

The patreon support really is critical to my being able to spend time making these posts, so if you enjoyed this or found it useful, please considering adding your support.

 

Centaur PC Race for Starfinder… and more.

CENTAURS IN STARFINDER
I have always loved the idea of centaur player characters. I suspect my love started with “Bridge of Sorrows” by Denis Beauvais, which was the cover of Dragon Magazine #92 (TSR, December 1984). Or maybe to goes back a tad earlier, to the Xanth novel Centaur Aisle, which I read in 1982, the same year I first encountered D&D, and RPGs in general.

I definitely want centaur PCs for my Really Wild West setting hack, which means I need rules for playing them as PCs in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

Ability Adjustments
Centaurs are powerfully built and in tune with their surroundings, but their hybrid form does come with drawbacks. Some centaurs are slightly awkward, having the brain of a biped, but the body of a quadruped. Others are delicate, their thin ankles and strange doubled internal organs leaving them prone to injury and ailments. A few are impatient and have little taste for complex calculations, preferring direct action and simple solutions whenever possible.
+2 Strength, +2 Wisdom, -2 to Dexterity, Constitution, or Intelligence.

Size and Type
Centaurs are monstrous humanoids.Centaurs vary in size from halfling-scale torsos on pony equine bodies, to mighty human or even ogrelike torsos on mighty warhorse equine bodies. At character creation, a centaur PC decided if they are Medium or large. They use equipment as Medium characters in either case.

Hit Points
6

Darkvision
Centaurs have darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Humanoidlike
Centaurs are close enough to nonmonstrous humanoids that they can be affected by spells and abilities that affect humanoids, but do not affect monstrous humanoids. Centaurs gain a +4 racial bonus to saving throws (if any) against such effects.

Gallop
Centaurs have a land speed of 40 feet, but treat it as a speed of 20 feet when determining their movement using Athletics to climb or swim. A centaur gains a +2 bonus to AC when charging (which normally just offsets the -2 penalty to AC for charging). When a centaur succeeds at a bull rush combat maneuver, they can move their target 5 feet farther than normal.

Natural Weapons
Centaurs are always considered armed. They can deal 1d3 lethal damage with unarmed strikes and the attack doesn’t count as archaic. Centaurs gain a unique weapon specialization with their natural weapons at 3rd level, allowing them to add 1–1/2 × their character level to their damage rolls for their natural weapons (instead of just adding their character level, as usual).

Quadruped
Centaurs are quadrupeds, which gives them some advantages and a few drawbacks. They take -2 penalties to Acrobatics checks to tumble and Athletics checks to climb. When determining their bulk limits, centaurs add half their Constitution score to their Strength. Centaurs gain a +2 racial bonus to their KAC against bull rush and reposition combat maneuvers. A centaur can carry one creature of its own size, or two of at least one size smaller, without counting them against the centaur’s bulk limit.

RWW-Centaurs-background-01

CENTAURS IN THE REALLY WILD WEST
In the pulp-scifi-western-fantasy-world of the Really Wild West, centaurs appear in most ancient civilizations of western Asia, northern Africa, and eastern Europe. They often appear as separate tribes, no less advanced or civilized than the other species around them, and often seen as wiser and more scientifically advanced than the ancient cultures that wrote about them. They are an accepted part of the history of those places, and have become common throughout Africa, Europe and northern Asia.

However, centaurs are not generally huge fans of sea travel. This dislike is not pathological, but practical. Centaurs are excellent overland travelers, but at best mediocre swimmers, and many are large enough to make building ships to accommodate them problematic. In previous centuries, they simply used Roman roads and Asian trade routes to spread their kingdoms far and wide, often as the most feared and effective of cavalry. But the rise of sea travel in empire-building has left most centaur nations shrinking, and often joining larger bipedal nations in mostly-friendly alliances and unifications.

As a consequence, centaurs are not particularly common in the Americas, as their lack of a tradition of sea travel simply has centaur businesses and families less interested in the kinds of roles that have brought people from other nations to American shores. This in turn has caused most major North and South American to develop without taking centaur needs into account. Buildings are not designed to be accessed by hooved people up to seven feet tall, and even centaurs small enough to fit in American buildings find themselves with few places to stand in settings where everyone else sits.

Most centaurs in the Americas find they are just more comfortable in frontier towns or pure wilderness. So while there are not many centaurs on the continents in general, a disproportionate number of those who are present take to Wild West living, where their speed and carrying capacity, and long tradition of dedication and excellence, are seen as more than enough to justify making a few changes to the local saloon, or having on or two of the hotel’s stable stalls be well-appointed rooms, as well.

CENTAURS PF2
So, PF1 already has solid rules for centaur PCs, but what if you wanted to play a centaur PC in PF2, or 5e?

Hit Points
10

Size
Medium

Speed
30 feet

Ability Boosts
Strength
Wisdom
Free

Ability Flaw
Dexterity

Languages
Common
Sylvan
Additional languages equal to your Intelligence modifier (if it’s positive). Choose from Aklo, Elvish, Gnomish, Goblin, Jotun, Orcish, and any other languages to which you have access (such as the languages prevent to your region).

Traits
Centaur
Humanoid

Darkvision
You can see in darkness and dim light just as well as you can see in bright light. though your vision in darkness is black and white.

Centaur Heritages
Centaurs have a vast number of ethnic differences, but also can trace their linneage back to a few early tribes that still often produce very different

Kentoroi
You are Large, rather than medium, and have a thick, sturdy appearance. You may have small tusks, or pointed ears. You gain the orc trait and your bulk limits are increased by +6. You can select orc feats whenever you gain an ancestry feat.

Lapith
Your head, arms and torso are extremely humanlike. You gain the human trait and are trained in one skill of your choice. You can select human feats whenever you gain an ancestry feat.

While for a full suppliment we’d obviously want some cool centaur-specific ancestry feats, doing things this way ensures that as the PF2 game adds new options for humans and orcs, our centaur PCs will automatically gain expanded options as well.

WANT MORE?
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Shield Traits for Pathfinder 2e

One of the unified systems in the second edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is a set of weapon traits that make specific fighting styles work differently from one another without having to depend on special class features or unique rules that apply to only a single weapon.

That same idea can easily be applied to shields, allowing all the common shield types and options to apply to some of the specific kinds of shields that evolved in the real word to meet specific fighting styles’ needs.

For example here are to Applied Kite Traits, designed to be applied to several different types of shields, allowing specific shields used by cavalry forces in the real word to function without special class features or skill uses.

A shield can only have one Applied Kite Trait, and that trait must be selected when the shield is crafted.

Bouche: A bouche shield has a series of ridges and notches along the top and one side that allow a mounted wielder to brace a lance on the shield. While wielding a bouche shield, you gain access to the set lance action.

A buckler, wooden or steel shield can have the bouche trait. This increases the cost by 1 gp, and reduces hardness by 1.

Set Lance [1 Action]: The next attack you make with a lance before the end of your turn does damage dice as if you were holding the lance 2-handed. You must be mounted and be wielding a lance in one hand to take this action.

Shield Bouche Bouch Shield

Kite: A kite shield has a wide, rounded top and tappers down to a point. It is a long shield, normally running 3/4 to 4/5 the height of the user.

When you take the Raise a Shield action with a kite shield while mounted, your mount also benefits from the increase to AC. If you have access to the Shield Block reaction, you can use it to defend your mount from a physical attack, rather than only when you would take damage from a physical attack.

A wooden, steel, or tower shield can have the kite trait. This increases the cost by 1 gp, and increases the bulk by 1.

Kite Shield Kite Shield

PATREON
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Heightened Spellbook: New Spell Options for PF2

One of the interesting things Pathfinder second edition has done is have a uniform set of rules for casting spells at higher spell levels. Many spells end up taking niches similar to lesser- and greater- versions from the first edition by having a set of effects that get better as you access higher-level versions of the spell.

Of course not every Pathfinder Second Edition spell has heightened benefits… but they all COULD.

So, I’m beginning to look at ways to add heightened effects to PF2 spells that currently don’t have them. For the moment, I’m starting at the beginning of the alphabet and just seeing how far I get, doing just a few each day.

Later these may all get compiled into a pdf, and backers of my Patreon at every level will certainly have compiled access to them eventually, as well as having the similar rules for focus spells I am posting exclusively on my Patreon pages.

I don’t want to duplicate the fine work other people have done compiling the base rules online (such as the PF2 SRD and the Archives of Nethys), so I’ll just list the spell, and it’s new heightened rules.

So, let’s get started with the Heightened Spellbook!

ABYSSAL PLAGUE     Spell 5
Heightened (+2) Targets increases to +1 additional creature adjacent to the touched creature; disease level increases by +2.

AIR BUBBLE     Spell 1
Heightened (+1) Targets increases by +1; duration is doubled (x2 at 2nd level, x4 at 3rd level, etc.)

AIR WALK     Spell 4
Heightened (+2) Targets increases to +1 additional creature adjacent to the touched creature; duration is doubled (x2 at 6th level, x4 at 8th level, etc.)

ALTER REALITY     Spell 10
Heightened (+1) Level of spells you can duplicate in each category increases by +1.
(Note: You’ll need some rules for 11th level spells to use this one, but if you’re using spells from some rando’s blog, who knows what other optional spells you’ve adopted?)

ANIMAL MESSENGER     Spell 2
Heightened (2nd) Animal messenger will bring a message or light Bulk item back to you, as if the recipient has also cast this spell.
Heightened (+1)
 Range and duration is doubled for each time you add this heightened effect.

00 Dragon and Wizard - RetroPunk

Art (c) RetroPunk, used under license

Like with all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon!

This is specifically supported by the Open Gaming Store, which currently has a HUGE mega-bundle sale going on if you want lots of material for only a few gp!

My Patreon: The Silver Lining

Well, you crazy folks did it. You pushed my Patreon over the $714 mark, my first monthly GOAL, which I have had since 2016, and never gotten closer than halfway before now.

So, I can now (starting today), “budget a guaranteed amount of time into my freelance schedule, allowing me to post at least one 750-word or longer piece of setting or fiction material every Monday, and 2 microrules (Microfeats, Spell Tweets, or similar very-short RPG rule ideas) every Tuesday-Friday.”

I also need to figure out my next goals. Sure, bringing in $1500/month to support my random writings seems impossible–but then $714 always felt like a stretch as well. More news on that soon.

Obviously I am extremely grateful to my backers, new and pre-existing, and everyone who has boosted, linked, promoted, and generally made a big deal of the fact I write things and people can help fund that directly. Since the job that my wife Lj and I moved to Indiana for has dried up many friends and fans have told me they wished they could do more. But it is clear that the efforts people have made on our behalf is what’s lead to this point, where my Patreon is a noteworthy part of my freelance income.

So what is the money going towards? Right now the time I am carving out for Patreon-supported writing is paid for by this income, which is going to go directly to finding a stable health insurance solution for my family.

And now, of course, what you are all paying me for– Game Content! Keeping with the theme of today I have written up a Silver Lining feat. Or, rather, since Silver Linings come in lots of different forms, I have written three different versions of it, for three of my favorite different RPGs.

Silver Lining (Pathfinder 1st Ed)
When things look bad, something else always works out for you.
Benefits: When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll or a saving throw in circumstances where a typical character could not take 10 on a skill check, you gain 1 resolve point. As a reaction when you next fail an attack roll or saving throw you may spent this resolve point for an immediate reroll without taking an action. If the d20 die result of the reroll is 1-10, add 10 to your total result. You can only have 1 resolve point at a time, and if not used it goes away when you next qualify to regain uses of daily abilities (even if you do not actually have daily abilities to regain).\

Silver Lining (Pathfinder 2nd Ed)
When things look bad, something else always works out for you.
Benefits: When you suffer a critical failure on an attack roll or saving throw, as a reaction you may choose to either heal a number of HP equal to your level, or regain one Focus Point.

Silver Lining (Starfinder)
When things look bad, something else always works out for you.
Benefits: When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll against a significant foe, or on a saving throws against a significant foe, as a reaction you may spent 1 Resolve Point to regain a number of Hit Points and a number of Stamina Points equal to your level. You cannot regain more of either than you are currently missing.

Silver Lining for Fantasy AGE

I am also now the Fantasy AGE developer for Green Ronin, so I’m posting this *very* rough, *very* unofficial version of Silver Lining as a Talent for that game system.

SILVER LINING
Classes: Mage, Rogue, and Warrior
Requirement: None
When things go badly for you, it’s usually a sign that something good is also about to happen.
Novice: When a foe using a stunt with a SP cost of 3 or more against you, the next time you gain SP, you gain 1 more than usual. You never gain more than 1 extra SP from Silver Lining.
Journeyman: Silver Lining now functions when a foe using a stunt with a SP cost of 2 or more against you.
Master: Silver Lining now functions whenever a foe uses a stunt against you.

Want to help with my Silver Lining?
I’m back to being a full-time freelancer, which means arranging for stability, health insurance, retirement options, and so on, is extremely difficult.

So if you found any of this useful or entertaining and you’d like to join the growing community of folks supporting the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!

Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge difference.

Shield Feats for PF 2E

Okay I’m at Gen Con, but I can’t help but want to play with some of the most interesting new rules of the  Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook. Shields!

Here are some new shield-focused feats. I am still trying to decide how I want to present some of the new information PF2 feats need in my blog format, so here’s a first try.

Angle Shield[General][Feat 1]

Prerequisites Shield Block
You can angle your shield to deflect part of the force of a powerful blow. When you use the Shield Block feat, your shield takes 5 points less damage than normal (minimum 0).

Duck Down[General][Feat 3]

[Reaction]
Trigger: When you have your shield raised and are forced to make a saving throw.
You can duck down behind your shield, making it more difficult for spells and special abilities to target and effect you. You gain a +1 bonus to the triggering saving throw. You are no longer considered to have your shield raised.

Knock Aside [General][Feat 1]

When you are wielding a shield, you gain a +2 bonus to the Disarm, Force Open, Shove, and Trip actions of Athletics.

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