Arcane Thesis Vol I: Doing More With Less: The Benefits and Short-Comings of Using Modular Options with Class and Level Progressions
New Pathfinder is here! And while my love for Pathfinder Classic is still burning hot, my enthusiasm for Second Edition is approaching supernova. And after a week of scouring the 640-page trove of goodies, I found myself realizing that a complete analysis of the system, including an attempt to pinpoint why I’m so excited to sit down and roll some plastic, is going to require a more scholarly approach. And thus I humbly present the first of what I hope is an accurate and fruitful analysis of what makes this new edition so special.
In the past decade, Pathfinder has managed to hold firm to the precident set by Dungeons & Dragons and its level-based character progression. Many other Roleplaying Games have gone the route of Character Points, allowing players to pick and choose what abilities they know, at the risk of characters becoming hyper-specialized. Pathfinder Second Edition has taken the best of both worlds, freeing up most player options by allowing character level to modify most checks rather than a limited number of skill points or class features. This frees up space for both designers and players, creating more possible character options while reducing the chances that a player’s choices will be useless or even subpar.
Some critics have claimed this will gentrify your typcial character, but I would passionately argue the opposite. A two-weapon fighter and a two-handed fighter were relatively the same in Pathfinder First Edition. One used multiple attacks per round to roll multiple dice, and the other used feats like Vital Strike to package that damage into a single hit. But ultimately their abilities were solely focused on that, and in the end most of these fighters would up playing the same. Skip to Second Edition and the options for each to focus on defense or offense, while shoring up additional combat options with the use of Skill Feats like Disarm, and you have enough options that there is no longer a clear “optimal build”. Even if you can mathematically work out which build does the most damage, martial characters in the new system now have a wider breadth of flexibility, thanks in large to “boring” character options like saving throws and skills being baked into the class, freeing them up to choose more exciting features that actually define a character and what they can do.
I honestly wish there was more talk on the modular nature of the new game, especially in promoting how quickly the game will expand and grow. We already have way more distinct options just with core than we did in the first year of Pathfinder First Edition products (inculding a year of books published prior to Pathfinder First Edition Core using 3.5e rules). And the prospect that each of the ten new Archetypes in the Lost Omen World Guide will be compatible with most of the twelve classes is enough to make my mouth water. Archetypes now open up new character options without limiting the basic progression of what makes your class special. Want a Wizard/Red Mantis Assassin? You won’t lose a single level of Spellcasting Progression. How about a Fighter/Red Mantis Assassin? You’ll continue your Weapon Training uninhibited by Achaekek’s mandate. Imagine if each Prestige Class and Archetype in First Edition worked with every Base Class in the game, and tell me again that you are going to wait a couple years for Second Edition content to “catch up”.
Keywords also play a critical role in keeping the game sufficiently diversified without making it needlessly complex. Having those distinct and color-coded keywords added to every ability in the game is going to make easier to build, remember and reference rules on the fly. And Second Edition has learned it’s lesson when it comes to making sure each and every keyword in the game is sufficiently meaty enough to add to the experience. Just open up to our new armory in Second Edition and read through those Weapon Traits on page 282. The keywords are easy to remember, describe exactly what they do and can be used to build an entire fighting style, rather than just be a trivial accessory like Distraction or Performance back in First Edition. No longer are damage-per-round and reach the only two elements you consider when looking at your options for melee weapons! More exciting yet, there are actually incentives for martial builds to pack sidearms for their extra qualities, not just to bypass specific damage reductions!
Which segues into my first build, not to mention one of the most promising design prospects of Second Edition and its modular nature: Supplements!
First Edition Pathfinder had lots of rules. These rules were very often divided into systems and subsystems all with their own formatting and language. Learning a new class often meant setting aside a good hour or two to read the entirety of the class and it’s associate archetypes and feats just to reach that moment where you realize the “role” the developer intended for the class in the first place. Making everything in Second Edition into Feats and (Focus) Spells greatly simplifies the formatting of new material. This will make it that much easier to suggest new character builds, remember your options mid-game, and understand and memorize new rules.
Product Focus: Files for Everybody: Nashi
Third Party Products are going to thrive given the modular nature of Second Edition’s Design. No matter how specific a book’s topic, you’ll be sure to find some new toys that’ll easily blend with the pre-existing mechanics of the Second Edition System. And the precise phrasing of abilities and masterful use of keywords makes introducing the new material into your playgroup a breeze. Want a good example? You needn’t look further than Alexander Augunas first in his line of supplements Files for Everybody: Nashi.
This isn’t your typical “species book”. There’s plenty of material here for the new cunning ring-tailed race of firearm wielding furballs. But you’ll find content for characters of any ancestry between 11 Alchemist Feats, a Sorcerer Bloodline, a Wizard School, a Dedication Archetype, and rules for a special breed of exclusive new Firearms and Alchemical Cartridges!
But don’t think I’m just skimming it for pre-existing builds! The Nashi themselves are a wonderful edition to any campaign. The ancestry and detailed information about their potential cultures and subcultures make it easy to include them as a minor or even major species in a new or existing setting. Alex really delved deep and gave us a holistic look at this new ancestry option, planning out communities, cultures and even cuisine that manages to break free of the normal tropes associated with raccoons without completely abandoning their biological and mythological roots. Not that this should come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his work.
I was personally drawn to the Sorcerer Bloodline that let’s you transform parts of your body into items on the fly. I was a little worried about attempting a “Martial Sorcerer” right off the bat, and immedaitely started looking into how I’d multiclass the character with Fighter to try to “make it work”. But that’s when I first came to realize the potential of Second Edition’s modular nature! With just a few select Skill Feats and the Nashi Ancestry, it becomes possible to make a Tanuki-bloodline Sorcerer who can hold his own in melee combat, self-buffing and switching between weapons up to four times in a single fight, using their choice of the diverse suite of weapon keywords from Sweep to Trip, depending on the circumstances of the battle!
Sample Build: Tanuki-Blooded Battle Sorcerer!
Background: Farmer (Athletics)
Ancestry Feats: Tinker Weapon Proficiency (5), Tinker Weapon Specialization (9), Tinker Weapon Mastery (13)
Class Feats: Familiar (Racooon/Familiar Focus) (2), Bespell Weapon (4), Advanced Bloodline (6), Greater Bloodline (10), Bloodline Resistance (12)
Skill Feats: Titan Wrestler (2)
General Feats: Armor Proficiency (3), Toughness (7), Armor Proficiency (11)
I only put the feats here that I feel are necessary to get this character working as intended. Thanks to the modular nature of Pathfinder Second edition, this character can work to support a team with battlfield control spells, or charge off into battle using self-buffs alongside literally any weapon in the book using their Advanced Bloodline. Switching between weapons will let you take full advantage of a suite of maneuver options using your Athletics training, like Disarm and Trip. You can easily adjust the build to include some Fighter, Ranger or even Champion multi-class talents, but you’ll want to keep your Focus Pool high and stick to Sorcerer until you unlock your Advanced Bloodline. The character takes advantage of using spellcasting actions alongside strikes so they rarely have to worry about multiple attack penalties. The slow weapon proficiency of the Sorcerer is offset with the Tinker Weapon Proficiency Ancestry feats of the Nashi.