Archive for July, 2020

Eclipse and Alternate Class Abilities for Pathfinder

July 7, 2020

The Pathfinder RPG is one that needs no introduction among fans of tabletop gaming.

Premiering in August of 2009, the first edition of the game ran for ten years before the second edition of was released. But while most everyone is familiar with both editions, it’s easy to forget that Pathfinder actually existed before either of those. Specifically, that for the first two years of its life, from 2007 to 2009, Pathfinder was a D&D 3.5 setting.

This is no mere technicality, either. For the first twenty-four months of its life, Pathfinder had a robust product catalogue of 3.5 materials. Four full Adventure Paths were released, as were quite few a player-themed supplements and campaign-focused books. Among the latter, there were actually two introductions to the world of Golarion, Pathfinder’s default campaign setting, those being the Pathfinder Chronicles Gazetteer and the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, both released in 2008.

Both books focused on providing a basic overview of the world in question. But while they put flavor text first and foremost, neither were devoid of game rules. Among these were alternate class abilities for each of the eleven core D&D classes, introducing a new option at the expense of an existing one. It’s those that we’re going to take a look at here.

Specifically, we’re going to analyze what’s gained and lost for each class in the context of Eclipse: The Codex Persona. Since d20 abilities are broken down into a point-buy context (as Character Points, or just CP) in the book, this makes it easy for us to determine the overall degree to which these alternate abilities are stronger or weaker than what they’re replacing. It helps that the book’s co-author has already broken down the eleven core classes into easy-to-follow progressions for us: barbarian, bard, and cleric; druid, fighter, and sorcerer; paladin and ranger; rogue and wizard; and monk.

So without further ado, let’s see what we’re looking at.

Barbarian

Cold Resistance (Ex): At 3rd level, a barbarian gains cold resistance 2. This resistance increases by 2 for every 3 additional levels the barbarian attains, for a total of cold resistance 12 at 18th level. […] which replaces the trap sense ability.

What They Give Up: +6 Danger Sense (an improvement to the Awareness ability) (-6 CP).

What They Gain: Damage Reduction 4, specialized and corrupted for triple effect/only versus cold damage (9 CP).

The barbarian gains a little more than they’re giving up, here. That’s not too surprising; cold is one of the more common energy types that gets thrown around, and traps are quite often a secondary consideration compared to monsters and other active threats. I suspect most players would be happy to pick this up and leave traps to the rogues.

Bard

Specialized Training (Ex): At 1st level, a bard must choose a single category of the Perform skill. Whenever the bard performs bardic music using the chosen category of the Perform skill, he is treated as being 2 levels higher when determining the effect and save DC. In addition, a bard with specialized training can make use of his bardic music one additional time per day, assuming that the additional usage uses his chosen category of the Perform skill. […] which replaces bardic knowledge.

What They Give Up: Lore/rumors and secrets (-6 CP).

What They Gain: Skill Emphasis, specialized for increased effect/only for calculating the DC of the relevant Mystic Artist effects (3 CP); 2d0 Hit Dice, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only to count as two levels higher for Mystic Artist abilities (3 CP).

Swapping out the classical “bardic lore” for increased ability with their bardic music, this ability eschews breadth for depth. That’s not unusual, as the d20 System tends to reward specialization, but the mechanics for bardic music have always been a bit of a mishmash, splitting their functionality between level and relevant skill rank.

Note that while the original text for this alternate ability says that the bard is treated as 2 levels higher for “determining the effect and save DC” of the relevant Perform skill’s uses of bardic music, as well as being able to use it +1 times per day, the Eclipse abilities we’ve purchased here are slightly better than that. Namely, since Mystic Artist can be used once per day per level, buying those 2d0 Hit Dice (no, that isn’t a typo; these are two zero-sized Hit Dice) and having them count as additional levels for purposes of Mystic Artist actually grants two additional uses per day, rather than one.

Cleric (Gazetteer)

Spontaneous Domain Casting (Su): A cleric who takes this ability only chooses one domain when selecting his first level of cleric. The cleric can swap prepared spells into domain spells from his chosen domain in addition to the normal spontaneous casting. The cleric can lose any spell that is not a prepared domain spell to cast any spell on his domain list of an equal or lower level. […] Taking this ability requires the cleric to choose only a single domain, instead of the normal two.

What They Give Up: Clerical “package deal” spellcasting (-200 CP).

What They Gain: Clerical “no package” spellcasting (160 CP), Domain (6 CP), one domain-relevant ability (typically 6 CP), Spell Conversion/healing or harming (6 CP), Specialist with the Improved and Superior modifiers/divine spellcasting (6 CP), Spell Conversion/domain spells (6 CP).

The cleric actually walks away from this deal with 10 CP unspent, compared to what they give up. A little bit of that is because we’re looking over the course of a full twenty-level progression; while the “package deal” clerical progression grants a lot of powers up front, buying them separately actually saves you Character Points over the long run, even if it’s only 4 CP by the time you hit 20th level.

The other 6 CP of savings comes from dropping a domain (i.e. its spells and ability) in favor of being able to spontaneously convert to your remaining domain’s spells. That strikes me as a bit redundant. You already have one spell slot per level set aside for domain spells (and now only one domain to fill them with), so how much will you really need to convert your other spells to those as well? Probably not often, which is why this trade-off leave CPs on the proverbial table.

While the Gazetteer and the Campaign Setting have the same alternate abilities listed for each class, the cleric is an exception. For whatever reason, it got a different alternate ability when the Campaign Setting was printed. Perhaps Paizo realized how redundant the above ability was?

Cleric (Campaign Setting)

Holy Warrior (Ex): A cleric with this ability is proficient with her deity’s favored weapon. In addition, her base attack bonus as a cleric equals her cleric level, and her cleric Hit Die becomes a d10. […] Taking the above ability requires a cleric to give up both of her domains, including her domain powers.

What They Give Up: Clerical “package deal” spellcasting (-200 CP).

What They Gain: Clerical “no package” spellcasting (160 CP), Spell Conversion/healing or harming (6 CP), +5 BAB (30 CP), d10 Hit Dice (Fast Learner, specialized for double effect/only for Hit Dice; 6 CP), proficiency with their deity’s favored weapon (one martial (3 CP) or exotic (6 CP) weapon proficiency).

As if to make up for how underwhelming the previous option was, this one makes the cleric into quite the powerhouse! While not egregiously overspending, it sacrifices both domains in exchange for larger Hit Dice, a 1:1 BAB progression, and an extra weapon proficiency. That last one isn’t strictly necessary; clerics are already proficient with all simple weapons, and plenty of gods have one of those as their favored weapon (for example, in Pathfinder Nethys’ favored weapon is the quarterstaff). But I suspect that players who want this particular option will invest in a deity with a better favored weapon anyway.

Druid

Mountain Stride (Ex): A druid with this ability can move through rocky terrain at her normal speed and without taking damage or suffering any other impairment. Magically manipulated terrain, such as spike stones, affects her normally. […] This ability replaces woodland stride.

What They Give Up: Travel/forest (-3 CP).

What They Gain: Travel/mountains (3 CP).

This is one of the simplest exchanges among the varied class options, trading moving through non-magical undergrowth without penalty for moving through non-magical rocky terrain without penalty. It’s quite prosaic, serving to do little but detach druids from forests, and even then not all that much. Insofar as Eclipse goes, decisions like this are simply a normal part of choosing an ability like Travel.

Fighter

Class Skills: A fighter trained at a famous war college or fighting school gains the following class skills (in addition to the normal fighter class skills): Diplomacy (Cha), Gather Information (Cha), Knowledge (architecture and engineering) (Int), Knowledge (geography) (Int), Knowledge (nobility and royalty) (Int), Sense Motive (Wis).

Skill Points at 1st Level: (4 + Int modifier) x 4.

Skill Points at Each Additional Level: 4 + Int modifier.

[…] Taking this option replaces the bonus feat gained upon taking the first level of fighter.

What They Give Up: 1st level fighter bonus feat (-6 CP).

What They Gain: Fast Learner, specialized for double effect/only for skills (6 CP).

This is a fairly straightforward exchange, giving up a little martial ability in order to double their skill allotment. It technically came with several skills becoming class skills, but that’s free here. Eclipse doesn’t presume which skill list will be used, and has characters pick the skills that are relevant to their character’s theme (subject to GM approval, of course).

Monk

Bonus Feat: At 1st level, a monk may select either Improved Grapple or Point Blank Shot as a bonus feat. At 2nd level, she may select either Stunning Fist or Deflect Arrows as a bonus feat. At 6th level, she may select either Improved Trip or Rapid Fire as a bonus feat. A monk need not have any of the prerequisites normally required for these feats to select them. […] These monks choose from an alternative selection when selecting bonus feats.

What They Give Up: N/A.

What They Gain: N/A.

Of all the core classes, this is the only one for whom the alternate ability isn’t really an alternate at all. Rather, they simply pick from a different list of bonus feats at 1st, 2nd, and 6th level. Since Eclipse doesn’t mandate any such restrictions to begin with, there’s really nothing to be done here.

Paladin

Light of Purity (Su): Starting at 6th level, a paladin with this ability can emit a burst of blinding light once per week. This light acts like a daylight spell, save that it only lasts for 1 round per level of the paladin. In addition, any undead within 30 feet of the paladin emitting this light takes 1d6 points of damage per round for every two levels the paladin has attained. A Fortitude save (DC 10 + 1/2 the paladin’s level + the paladin’s Cha modifier) halves this damage. A paladin may use the light of purity one additional time per week for every three additional levels he has attained, to a maximum of five times at 18th level. […] which replaces the remove disease ability gained at 6th level and all increases in that ability.

What They Give Up: Improved/remove disease modifier to the Healing Touch ability, specialized for one-half cost/must remain good-aligned and adhere to the paladin’s code (-3 CP).

What They Gain: Inherent Spell, variant/5 times per week rather than once per day, specialized for one-half cost/must remain good-aligned and adhere to the paladin’s code (3 CP).

The inherent spell in question functions as per daylight, except that it must be centered on the paladin, lasts for 1 round/level, and inflicts 1d6 points of damage per 2 levels to all undead in the area of effect each round (Fort save for half; DC 10 + 1/2 level + Cha. modifier).

While the numbers here match up in terms of cost, this is an area where the context is important. Disease tends to be little more than a mild debuff in most games, whereas undead are a popular creature type. While this ability doesn’t look like it deals too much damage, it can add up over time thanks to its duration (especially if the paladin is willing to use it multiple times in succession), to the point of vaporizing hordes of weaker undead. My recommendation would be to expressly call this positive energy damage, and subtract turn resistance from the damage dealt each round (and of course, defenses such as life ward, from the Spell Compendium, should protect against it as well).

Ranger

Enhanced Companion (Ex): Upon gaining an animal companion at 4th level, the ranger must choose a single type of animal. The ranger cannot call a different animal companion. The ranger’s effective druid level is equal to the ranger’s level –2 (instead of the normal 1/2) for that type of animal. This animal must be on the basic list of companions that can be chosen at 4th level and cannot be changed. […] This ability replaces the wild empathy ability.

What They Give Up: Lore/animals, specialized for one-half cost/only to understand how to get along with them (-3 CP).

What They Gain: Change the specialization on Companion from “companion bonuses progress as if the user was only half his or her level” to “may only select a single type of animal” (no cost), and add the following: “corrupted for two-thirds cost/companion bonuses progress at the user’s level -2) (-1 CP).

The ranger is another instance of a class for whom the new options are actually cheaper than the standard ones, albeit only barely so here. This might seem strange, as having a half-strength companion is a far greater restriction than one who functions at almost full power for your level. The issue is that not being able to procure a different type of companion should your existing one die or be dismissed can be extremely limiting. An extended underwater sojourn can have you leaving your companion behind for several sessions, for instance, and if you later want to upgrade to something like a dire animal or a dinosaur, you won’t be able to (though in Eclipse, you can always buy off this restriction if it becomes too onerous).

Rogue

Poison Master (Ex): At 3rd level, the rogue can use poison without any chance of poisoning himself. For every three levels of rogue beyond 3rd, the DC for any poison coated on the rogue’s weapons increases by +1 if the target is poisoned as part of a sneak attack. […] This ability replaces the trap sense ability.

What They Give Up: +6 Danger Sense (an improvement to the Awareness ability) (-6 CP).

What They Gain: Poison Use, specialized for one-half cost/does not include the ability to craft poison (3 CP); Ability Focus/all types of poison, specialized and corrupted for triple effect/only when delivered via weapon damage as part of a sneak attack (6 CP).

This alternate ability trades a passive defense against traps into an incentive to use poisons. Given how many creatures are immune to them outright, it’s questionable whether or not this succeeds. Still, pumping up the typically-low DCs that they have definitely helps, as does removing that small-but-irritating chance of poisoning yourself.

Note that the specialization on Poison Use means that the rogue has no particular ability to create their own poisons. Normally this ability would allow for them to be made via Alchemy (which was a 3.0 skill; the 3.5 version would be Craft (alchemy)). Without it, the rogue can only make their own poisons with Craft (poisonmaking) according to Complete Adventurer. Similarly, the original write-up for this ability tops out at adding +5 to the DC of poison delivered via a sneak attack; here the total bonus is +6.

Sorcerer

Hidden Reserve (Su): Starting at 1st level, a sorcerer with this ability can call upon a hidden reserve of magical energy to cast additional spells. This reserve can be used to cast any spell the sorcerer could normally cast, but the sorcerer is fatigued after the spell is completed. If this spell is of the highest level that the sorcerer could normally cast, the sorcerer is exhausted instead. This ability cannot be used while fatigued or exhausted. It can be used a number of times per day equal to the sorcerer’s Charisma bonus. […] This ability replaces the summon familiar ability.

What They Give Up: The familiar gained from Companion (-6 CP).

What They Gain: 16 levels of wilder progression with no caster levels, variant/taken as generic spell levels instead, corrupted for two-thirds cost/no powers gained, specialized for one-half cost/causes fatigue after each use (exhaustion if used for your highest-level spells), cannot be used when fatigued or exhausted, may only be used a number of times per day equal to your Charisma modifier (16 CP).

Of all the alternate powers listed for these classes, this one is by far the most egregious. For one thing, its scope is wildly variable; allowing a sorcerer to cast any spell that they normally could a number of times per day equal to their Charisma bonus could mean three extra spell levels (e.g. three 1st-level spells for a 1st-level sorcerer with a 17 Charisma) or it could mean one hundred seventeen extra spell levels (e.g. thirteen 9th-level spells for a 20th-level sorcerer with a 36 Charisma). The variability is staggering for what it offers!

Trying to soft-lock this with fatigue and exhaustion effects is a meaningless restriction. A wand of lesser restoration costs a mere 4,500 gp, and if you find one crafted by paladins (who can cast lesser restoration as a 1st-level spell), then that price drops to only 750 gp. That might be annoying to use in the middle of a fight, but for outside of combat this is a major power-boost.

Having said all of that, making this is Eclipse is fairly easily done, as shown above. Sixteen levels of the wilder progression grants 221 power points, and dividing that by 1.8 (as outlined on page 12 of Eclipse) gives us 122 generic spell levels, slightly more than the 117 we outlined for a sorcerer who has pumped their Charisma into the mid-30s.

Wizard

Arcane Duelist (Su): Wizards with this ability are specially trained to push their spells when needed to gain the up-per hand. When pushing a spell, the wizard can choose one of the three following effects: increase a spell’s DC by +1, add +2 to the level check to overcome spell resistance, or add a +2 morale bonus on attack rolls made with the spell. A wizard can use this ability a number of times per day equal to his Intelligence bonus. Using this ability is a swift action. […] which replaces the Scribe Scroll feat gained at 1st level.

What They Give Up: Spell Storing (-6 CP).

What They Gain: Hysteria/magic, specialized and corrupted for increased effect/may be utilized for free a number of times per day equal to the user’s Intelligence bonus, may only grant a +1 to a spell’s DC, a +2 bonus to a spell’s attack roll, or a +2 bonus to overcome spell resistance (6 CP).

Far more restrained than their sorcerous counterpart, the wizard’s alternate ability is actually more modest than it appears. While they’ll likely get quite a few uses out of it once they begin heightening their Intelligence scores, this is limited purely to spells that directly affect enemies. It can’t be used to increase durations, improve buffs, augment defenses, etc. Given how many wizard builds focus on out-of-combat utility spells, this is nicely balanced for what it offers.