Pathfinder Playtest Analysis III – Classes
This series of posts was made possible by the generous contributions of the following folks:
-Paco Garcia Jaen
-Justin Andrew Mason
All right, after having had to delete and revise and recheck this twice due to updates, let’s take a look at classes before 1.6 is replaced, all right?
The first things we should note pertains to the character creation sequence – while it literally becomes an ABC (Ancestries, Backgrounds, Classes), I couldn’t help but feel like this sequence of presentation may be detrimental to the experience of newer players, at the very latest in the class section. Why?
Because you immediately hit a roadblock with the alchemist class, which refers to several rules that are explained MUCH later in the book. If you’re an inexperienced roleplayer, that class can act as a pretty intimidating wall that not everyone will be willing to scale. At this point in the sequence, we literally have no idea regarding the decisions we’re making in character creation. We basically have to skip ahead to make informed decisions, and while this held true, to a degree, for ancestries as well, here the problem is significantly exacerbated. An important task for PF 2 will be to present the new system in a manner that is more accessible than this. With all my experience, I had to put the book down time and again to process the rules-chassis presented…or because its failures in the didactic department frustrated me. The Pathfinder Playtest book is not good at teaching you how to play using the system. It’s not alone in that, mind you – plenty of books, from 5e to other systems, are not particularly helpful or good at teaching the respective game – but it’s an issue PF Playtest may want to rectify.
Explaining the basics of the game and its rules BEFORE the classes, and then pointing towards the more detailed rules, would certainly help. “Want to play an alchemist? Read up on resonance rules on page XYZ, alchemical items,etc. on page ZXY, etc.” – Not in the middle of the class abilities (here, we thankfully have references galore), but in the beginning.
There is another somewhat puzzling decision here that prevents you from getting quickly into the game: There are no quick-build rules/pieces of advice. I know, I know – it’s a 5e-thing, but it imho really helped make character creation, particularly for less experienced roleplayers or newbies, much more accessible. As an aside – quick-build advice/rules for the ancestries similarly would be a good idea. You know: “Do you want to play an elven archer? Then choose this heritage and that ancestry feat.” A few lines like this could be really helpful. If Paizo doesn’t implement the like, it’d be an interesting venue to pursue for 3pps. Just sayin’.
Anyhow, it should be evident at this point, but let me state it clearly: Pathfinder Playtest and Pathfinder 2 can’t be PF 1. They have to be a different game. They can’t, system-immanently, sport the same level of complexity that PF 1 has reached by now – we only have a book and a few modules, after all. So, a fair comparison for the merits of the system would be the Core Rules from the PF 1 days of yore. Prior to the APG’s release. Notice something? When you strip away the nostalgia and bias, the PF 1 core-rules…actually didn’t improve that much. They weren’t trying to be a new system, and in my opinion, Pathfinder only developed its own identity with the release of the APG. But I digress.
PF Playtest, obviously, has the goal of changing the game drastically, and it succeeds at that attempt. Since the first class in the book is the alchemist, it makes sense to first discuss a divisive concept, namely Resonance.
I absolutely adore Resonance. I love it to bits. It allows for a non-intrusive resource-management game, and it actively dissuades the Christmas tree syndrome – you know, PCs, decked from head to toe in various, generic magic items, consumables, etc. The notion of investing Resonance reminded me, in a good way, of e.g. Akashic Mysteries. It also provides a meaningful reason to invest in Charisma for classes that traditionally dumped that stat. No more sifting for ages through consumable sections, no more parties decked to the teeth in a never-ending supply of bland one-use items. I get why some folks won’t like this – it represents a vast departure from the tradition – but both for the long-term health of the system, for the benefits of the GMs, and for designing for it, it’s a boon. It can also make for exciting decisions – invest? Or have Resonance ready? It rewards planning. Love it. As an aside for designers reading this: A hack of sorts of the system that removes Resonance may be worth contemplating as a supplement for those groups that really want items galore…
Anyhow, apart from the placement in the sequence of rules being explained, the alchemist class as such is actually one that I enjoyed as far as engine is concerned. The notion of codifying modifications of class features via the additive trait is a good one, and I enjoyed the fact that the new alchemist no longer feels like a graft on top of mundane alchemy, a thing of its own – the design here is more holistic, and as such, I can see this fellow grow as more supplements are released. Now, as a person, I would have loved a more modular approach here – to me, the alchemist still is very much a Witcher-esque character, and having ingredients that you can combine (say, albedo, an herb and quicksilver) would have made my day, but I am not disappointed by this fellow, and I was really afraid for the class. It certainly has design space galore. The 1.6 choice of personal reagents has deprived me of the main design concern I had to field here. Bulk may also warrant close observation for this fellow.
I was, however, very much disappointed by the barbarian. As a huge Conan, Kull, etc. fan, I did not enjoy seeing the narrowing of focuses here. I love totems per se as an option, and for characters like Kull of Atlantis, this makes sense; same goes for the tribal warrior angle…but the barbarian class had evolved to encompass drunkards, the possessed and similar folks who had a battle-rage angle. Berserkers did not have classic animal totems per se. (And yes, I am familiar with the nomenclature of the term, but that was psychological warfare as much as conviction – and totems very much imply and demand conviction, considering anathema.) The superstitious totem is a solid angle, but also one where consequently RP’d PCs will leave most groups. Not getting feats for each totem for each level range is a problem we can find with quite a few of these unlock trees throughout the classes and by no means exclusive to the barbarian. I don’t like that you can Cleave around obstacles. It can be somewhat ridiculous. Not getting the AoO-reaction is also a pretty odd choice, as far as I’m concerned. So yeah, I really disliked this class, both from a flavor and mechanics perspective. It’s the “I hit once hard class”, and feels like it really needs a few more options.
The bard, as the occult spellcaster here, exemplifies rather well an observation that anything more than a cursory glance will provide – the classes themselves don’t offer as much as they once did. This can, of course, be a boon for new players. It also allows for specialization. Bardic Lore’s now a totally optional feat, and so is Versatile Performance – both governed by the respective muse, or available later via feats. I do not object to that per se; the thing that concerns me, is that this makes some classes *feel* like they offer less customization than they actually do. The bard’s compositions and muses do offer for choice, and this is important, but as a whole, a lot of the classes within do feel like they offer less design space to tweak them – not being able to archetype (as per 1.6, all archetype feats start at level 2, soonest) can be a bit of a bummer. One of things I dislike most about 5e is the lack of customization options for many classes before level 3. Here, we have a similar problem – level 2 at the soonest, for the customization-spoiled PF 1-crowd, may be one level too late. Additionally, since the archetypes in PF Playtest are feat-based, you couldn’t start the game as one such archetype’d fellow if you’re a bard. As a barbarian, you could theoretically – a level 1 class feat’s there, but since the bard gets the class feat from the muse…well, tough luck. Archetype acquisition delayed. Sure, you can work around that, but yeah…in the long run, this might warrant specifyin an option to trade in class feats baked into the chassis.
The druid is basically, in many ways, design-paradigm-wise similar to the bard, in that a top-heavy class has now been made one that allows for the selection of components that were previously part of the core identity. These are potentially enhanced by druid orders – which are, as per the writing of this, rather uneven in their usefulness. Woodland Stride is erroneously noted as a level feat, when it, by placement, is intended at level 4, and no, we don’t get feats for each order for each druid feat level array. Constant speak with plants, one of the most ridiculously underpowered level 14 feats, has thankfully as per 1.6 been moved down to 6th level. Still…as a whole, I don’t really consider the druid particularly exciting as of now.
For the cleric…I perhaps had unrealistic hopes. As far as traits are concerned, the lack of neutral feats felt a bit glaring to me. (And is something that should be rectified.) They are, obviously, the best healers…but honestly, I would have loved to see an option that allows the cleric, perhaps via a feat-chain or somesuch, to relegate the healing task to allies – considering PF Playtest’s 3-action economy, having an ally “join in prayer” to receive benefits like healing would have been nice and could free the cleric to do other stuff – like Channel Smites…Basically, having a somewhat vitalist-like option imho would go rather well with the action economy system of Pf Playtest – and it would yield a roleplaying angle of these guys as, you know, agents of deities… That being said, the cleric, as per 1.6, does have a couple of changes to Lore etc. I welcome: The divorcing of positive and negative energy from alignment is a huge boon in the long run, and allows for some seriously creep-tastic narrative angles. On the downside, as per 1.6, Channel Smite still has an alignment component, when it should not have that.
Fighters are perhaps one of the biggest improvements in PF Playtest – AoOs from the get-go, a ton of viable feat options, and later even wildcard feats baked into the chassis. From archery to shield-use and charging, these guys REALLY offer for tactical choices, outclassing the barbarian in flexibility of the options provided. You can really customize these guys, and considering how magic weapons now work more akin to SFRPG, focusing on more added base dice as opposed to massive bonus-numbers, these guys can deliver serious levels of pain. I like where the fighter is going.
Monks seriously benefit from AoOs no longer being universal – their single action flurry is pretty damn potent when played correctly. The new monk is better than the barbarian. Granted, that’s as of now not a high bar to reach, but yeah, they play better than any vanilla 3.X monk did, at least in comparison. I also like that the whole ki-nagle is now optional – while I love me some WuXia style action, I also am fond of the quasi-European secular bruiser type of guy, you know, a martial priest dude, with fisticuffs and such. From an aesthetic point of view, I dislike the counterstrike option of the class being tied to Crane Style (the level 6 Crane Flutter feat) – and from a design perspective, getting access to Ki via Ki Strike is basically a feat tax due to the small size of the pool granted – getting a unique benefit here, perhaps a defensive one for monks focusing more on Wis than Dex, would imho make sense here. Still, as a whole, I think that the new monk works better than before and is on a good way.
Paladins now are truly the knights that defend, the holy protectors, the tanks. These guys make for superb bodyguards from the get go with Retributive Strike. This does make them a pretty reactive class to play, though that would be by design – and since level 6 can provide AoOs, they make for the best option for defensive martials. Now, since Channel Life eats into their very limited Spell Points, they won’t be as efficient as clerics as healers, but that is probably intended. Now, for me, the most iconic visual representation I have of palas in my mind, is still the knight shielding allies from dragon fire – so not having some unique shield tricks at low levels (before 6th) is a bit of a downer. Speaking of which: The second level oaths are all destructive: Hunt down xyz. To me, paladins were not necessarily the “EXTERMINATE”-dudes & dudettes; I’d welcome a few more constructive/defensive options here – oaths rock. Oaths to exterminate certain critters, though? These feel more ranger-esque to me.
Speaking of which: Rangers focus on Hunted targets, and that is both cool and a crux of the class – some of the more interesting abilities are contingent on targets being hunted, but as per 1.6 (even as soon as 1.5, if I recall correctly), the animal companion issue of being comparably worse has been rectified – the ranger’s companion now gets a conditional, undirected action at level 6, which brings it in line – after druid, but before the other companion options. This fits my aesthetics rather well. Sam goes for the abilities and class feats allowing for guerilla hit and run play better than before – the ranger feels more ranger-y. It’s not yet perfect, as the central Hunt-angle could use more synergy (and perhaps an option to somewhat delimit number of targets hunted), but as a whole, it feels unique and more distinct than before.
Now, the rogue is pretty interesting – but here, I for once would argue in favor of making one level 1 feat part of the base class chassis – Nimble Dodge. Spending a reaction for an AC-boost would make sense here to offer something active, particularly when there will be pressure to take Trap master – because, you know rank of Master trap disabling in Thievery? Most dungeon-delving groups will expect that type of thing from the rogue, which can generate a kind of social pressure to take that feat, in spite of probably wishing to take another. Mobility finally doesn’t suck and actually makes for a good choice in the new system. I like that. I don’t like that the simple poison alternative (which should be there!) for Poison Weapon is created ex nihilo – a single line about collecting it would make that one more sensible. There are a couple of synergy issues here – much like with some of the other class feats: Bludgeoner and Footpad’s Focus don’t interact RAW, for example. Poison Weapon should allow for contact poison delivery, but RAW doesn’t work due to the feat requirements. Dispelling Slice is kinda dumb, as it allows you to dispel via sneak attack – and this can be used on allies to end harmful effects. From a design-aesthetic point of view, I was slightly confused by how the rogue has a couple of feats that duplicate spell effects, but specifically are not spells. While we’re on the subject of rogues: The archetype option does net you a grand total of one skill increase via Skill Mastery, which struck me as odd.
As for sorcerer: There is one thing that annoyed me about bloodline formatting: initial powers don’t list their Spell Point cost, which is always 1. However, later powers do list them…and they’re always (2). So why not just add in a (1)? It’s aesthetic, yes, but it bothers me. The fact that bloodline now influences spell list is a nice one, but the bloodlines themselves…are, ironically, kinda bloodless – if a class feature required more means to dive into the respective flavor, then that one’s it. The metamagic focus of the class fits nicely with the savant angle, but the class could use more unique things for the bloodlines, and more feats – make bloodlines behave like a secondary heritage, add some bloodline-specific feats, and these fellows would become much more interesting.
As for wizards – the class was always defined by spells and schools, but since PF Playtest has greatly decreased the potency of spells in general, the wizard comes off as in a bit of an identity crisis as far as flavor is concerned. A couple of school-exclusive feats help there, though that is an aspect that should be expanded. In direct comparison, it’s a bit more troubling to me that the wizard pretty much outclasses the sorcerer in the flexibility department. Sorcerers should, in comparison at least, receive access to uncommon and rare spells. Better Heightening for sorcs would also make sense. I know. This is supposed to be about the wizard, but apart from MOAR school specific feats and MOAR spells, what is there to comment on here? As a whole, I think that the wizard is solid, though it does suffer from…well, being so similar to the sorcerer. Heck they share the majority of their level 1 class feats. More differentiation would be nice here.
Anyhow, I hope that I have not ambushed by 1.7 this time around – see you next time, when we’ll be talking a bit about how the system informs the game and its playstyle!
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