Pathfinder Playtest Analysis V – On Magic Addendum & Design Spaces

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All right, since my last post, I’ve had a stimulating decision with some of my readers, namely, Delurm and Keith Davies. At this point I’d like to thank them!

During the course of this discussion, the notion of segmented spellcasting came up. For the young ones: You’d start casting, and the more powerful the spell was, the longer it’d take for the casting to be completed. It’s an often forgotten component of earlier editions of the game, and it is one of the more charming components, at least in my opinion.

An automatic component of implementing segmented spellcasting would be that the lower level spells remain tactically relevant, that casters, and other characters, by playing with their initiative and choosing spells in a smart manner, could interrupt each other and face off on a tactical level. The concept is easy to implement and explain. You can obviously tweak this system in a variety of ways, but its implementation in either could really help spontaneous spellcasters to stand out more, and as an aside, metamagic could be made more relevant that way as well. The sorcerer could have a mechanically-distinct niche!

Another key point that was mentioned, would be that, at one point, learning a spell was tougher, and that chances for saving throw success actually improved at higher levels…which made particularly martial characters rather frightful, damn tough cookie to cast to shreds. Looking to old-school, and a particular wording ambiguity in the German iteration of AD&D 1e, I recalled an interpretation where the percentile check to determine spells that can be learned..kinda would make sense today as well. When playing with this system, you automatically arrive at a more diversified spell-loadout. Some casters never managed to learn that fireball, so other spells needed to be developed…Of course, in a contemporary iteration, rerolls on new levels or auto-learn of lower level spells would make sense, but the core appeal of this limitation remains.

While on the subject of old-school design decisions that are interesting: Personally, I’d very much adore a (optional) houserule that would present carousing rules, or one that contextualized XP with something tangible in-game, be it gold or the like. The latter also would take care of WBL issues on its own…but I digress.

Now, as for design space and the discussion of my least favorite, and my most favorite aspects of the game.

As far as least favorite is concerned, that’d be the exceedingly pronounced focus on feats for everything modular. Granted, PF 1 allowed for feats to grant access to class features – but only in a limited manner. In a way, the particularization shows here is also one aspect whose consequences we can observe in SFRPG. In that game, archetypes are, in case you didn’t know, applied generally – each class can take an archetype.

This presents a challenge for the designer – the archetype must or should work with a plethora of classes, which, by necessity, makes the abilities either a system grafted onto the base class, or a modification that is not enough to unhinge the power-level of any class. In PF Playtest, this can also be seen in some feat categories. However, most class features have similarly been made into class-specific feats. An issue here would be the illusion of parity: One class feat is worth as much as the next right? Well, not really, but that is a question of finetuning. More problematic would be that all larger conceptual packages, the ones we usually considered to be archetype packages, can be split down.

One of the strengths as far as character design in PF 1 is concerned, is the supreme array of options it provides for players: From the tiny trait to the feat(s) to the archetypes, there are a ton of considerations, both big and small. One of the most prevalent gripes I have heard against 5e, is that many classes don’t have enough choice until 3rd level. As a consequence, I very much believe that all classes in PF Playtest should have at least one class-relevant choice to make at first level.

As far as archetypes are concerned, their function is interesting: They allow the player to take components of the experience of the vanilla class away and replace them with something different. The sheer size of an archetype also is one strength: You could justify a stronger ability for the loss or crippling of another, allowing for a huge field of design space. At the time of me writing this, I can primarily see….feats. Endless oceans of feats. These *can* and probably will, yield similar options, sure – but considering that these feats are intended to have equal value, we either arrive at feat taxes in linear sequences…or can no longer justify incisions of this extent within the system provided. Sure, one could generate chain-feats that unlock a linear sequence of abilities, but lock multiple feat slots upon taking them, or introduce forbiddance-clauses (can’t take feat x and feat z), but ultimately, I don’t think the game would benefit from these, and they wouldn’t change the fact that the core of the class would remain untouched.

If I could have my way, I’d suggest including both PF 1archetypes (for concepts tied to specific classes) and SF-style archetypes for more general ones.

So that would be definitely an important design space one should carefully consider.

My favorite aspect of PF Playtest? By far? How gloriously concise it defines the tactical actions. Aid, assist….and particularly Interact. One of the biggest issues with dynamic and interesting combat areas in PF 1 is the relative fiat-based use of actions that are not “I hit it with my sword/spellcasting/killing stuff.” It is testament to how engrossing PF 1’s combat can be that I never realized it until I started regularly looking into other games. One mechanism can be a standard action to activate, one could be a full-round action – etc.  There was no simple and unified baseline for many of the aspects that would allow for the roleplaying/smart playing in combat, at least beyond immediate combat tactics.

PF Playtest handles this perfectly, by providing easy to reference defaults, including “Interact.” Combined with how movement in combat works in PF Playtest, I do think that the new system will be conductive to much more interesting combats and situations. Particularly in module design, this base system, actions like Seek etc., allow even now for a ridiculous tactical depth beyond the confines on killing enemies. Combat puzzles, running battles, etc. – there are so many scenarios that will run smoother with this. In a way, this will probably be a bit of a challenge for many PF 1 authors, as the engine now basically demands clever use of terrain. I love this aspect of the game, as it REALLY drives home that there will be no excuses. I fully expect this simple and underappreciated base-line to greatly enhance the diversity of challenges posed in PF 2 adventures. When implemented properly, this could allow for more diverse roleplaying and offer some of the depth of the like often found in old-school systems, all while not compromising the integrity of the tactical combat, rather enhancing that aspect.

So yeah, this very much represents, in and of its own, an excellent reason to be stoked about the game to come, at least as far as I’m concerned!  It may also be an indicator that PF 2 is expected to move a bit away from the focus on PC options and towards individual classes/terrain etc. mattering more and becoming more diversified, but I am just speculating at this point.

…and honestly, that’s it about for now. I am pretty optimistic about the future of the system as a whole, and I do believe that it can become something rather special. Right now, there are a couple of aspects I’m not yet 100% keen on, but ultimately, we’ll have to see how the system develops and how the entirety of the finished experience will work out. After all, Pathfinder’s Core book alone  did not establish the aesthetic on its own, either.

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Endzeitgeist out.

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