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Thread: Pathfinder RPG: Session Notes - Level One ... Fight

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    Pathfinder RPG: Session Notes - Level One ... Fight

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    One of the biggest complaints I have heard about 3e, and every addition before it for that matter, is that characters at first level are too weak, are spent too quickly, and are generally not that much fun to play. Personally, I think that this frailty adds to the charm of being first level. I like the sense of trepidation that comes with knowing that you're one good sword thrust from being flat-out dead. It encourages finding more creative solutions to problems beyond the brute-force, might-makes-right approach that is all too common in D&D. We'll chalk that up to crazy-DM talk though, since this is rarely seems to be the player perspective. So, you ask, what does Pathfinder do to make first level more playable and less frustrating?

    In previous editions, spellcasters were at the biggest disadvantage since they ran out of spells almost instantaneously -- usually before the first encounter was even over. So here you are, room one of the dungeon, and the cleric and wizard are ready to head back to town for an after-fight siesta. If they do press on, the wizard is now forced to start plinking away with his crossbow, and the cleric can only pray that no one gets hurt in the next fight because there is basically nothing else he can do about it. Pathfinder goes a long way towards addressing this problem.

    Arcane casters now receive a reusable ability at level one that gives them some sort of attack or boon to cast. While they did not go so far as to give casters an "at-will," ability in the same fashion as Fourth Edition, these abilities are generally usable more than three times per day (3+[Primary Ability Score Modifier]) and either have a useful effect or do reasonable damage for a first level character. Notably, the Arcane Sorcerer bloodline is an exception to this rule, who instead receives the arcane bond ability of the wizard which either gives him a familiar or a bonded object. This potentially gives the Arcane Sorcerer an additional spell per day of his choosing, but only once per day.

    On the divine side, druids don't get any more spells per day than they used to, but even after their spells run dry they still bring a lot to bear with their animal companion. Clerics on the other hand, move forward as the definitive healers of the game even at level one with their new "Channel Energy" ability. Channel Energy creates a wave of either positive or negative energy extending thirty feet in every direction from the cleric. For goodly clerics who channel positive energy, this wave will heal all living targets or damage all undead for 1d6 points for every two levels the cleric possesses. Should the cleric be evil, this will be a wave of negative energy that either harms the living or heals the undead. This will be an immense help to the cleric who previously had to spend so many of his spells on healing. As a matter of fact, this let the NPC cleric in my game to cast -- gasp! -- "Shield of Faith," instead of reserving it for "Cure Light Wounds," at level one.

    As to the fragile nature of the first level character, my evil Dungeon Master side is appeased. Although there was some discussion in the beta rules about perhaps doubling the amount of hit points received at first level, this didn't make it into the official rules. First level characters receive maximum hit points for their first level just as they already did in 3.5e. However, it both got a little easier and a little harder for characters to die from a lucky critical or quickly bleed out.

    In the new rules, a character can drop below zero hit points up to an amount equaling his constitution score. For the fighter with a sixteen constitution, this is a great thing. For the wizard with an eight ... not so good. This meager buffer will be meaningless at higher levels where even the fighter (and definitely the low-con wizard) might go straight from alive-and-swinging to well-there-goes-some-more-diamond-dust in one hit.

    Nonetheless, the new spell additions and channeling abilities make a huge difference in the survivability of first level characters. In our first couple of sessions, we noticed a significant improvement in how far the party could go before having to stop and rest again. The uptick in the general power-level also allowed the players to face even stronger (and more interesting) opponents than say the typical lowly kobold or goblin.

    ---

    For more information about the new Pathfinder RPG, check out our initial review of the new rules here at Pen & Paper Games.
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    Some other things I've noticed which mesh with your info here.

    Druids can have a 3 (plus stat bonus) per day attack if they choose to have a cleric domain rather than an animal companion. The fire domain for instance. This gives them another option since animal companions always seem to serve better as defenders, or die often.

    There's also at will cantrips like Acid Splash. While 1d3 damage isn't much, it's a touch attack which is nice in many low level situations allowing the wizard to steadily contribute even if his attack rolls aren't very good.

    Another boon to arcane casters or even dabblers is the Arcane Strike feat. This feat allows the caster imbue his weapon as a swift action giving it a +1 magical enhancement bonus to hit and damage. This bonus goes up as they level too.

    All in all I too love the frailty but being tapped for resources and forced to press on is a condition players will only be generally interested in once in a while.

    "Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone."

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    As a player I much more prefer roleplay over combat. I like weak 1st level. 1st level characters are barely above common citizens and they become powerful (or dead) through their trials and troubles. Powerful 1st level characters is a retarded concept, why not start at 3rd level then?

    A good example of a 1st level adventure is a lot of intrigue and puzzle solving with one or two fights. Save the fantasy stuff for later adventures. My pc's didn't see anything more fantastic than a half-elf or half-orc until after 3rs level... They didn't have a magic weapon until 3rd level or later. You ruin the game if the characters can wipe out whole cities by 5th level...

    My motto: Quality, not Quantity.

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    Arch Lich Thoth-Amon is offline Cursed by the Gods
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    Being old school, i love weak 1st level characters. Pellinore makes a great point on this. If one wants a more powerful character, then why not make this character 3rd level. Why screw with the 1st level profile, but i digress.
    Thoth-Amon, Lord of the Underworld and the Undead
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    But don't you see, that's the beauty of running a campaign. Everybody runs differently and different campaigns will be different.

    In my personal campaigns, the bulk of the world is at least level 5, and the PC's who start at level 1 aren't anything special beyond belonging to the players.
    Masaru Academy, a roleplaying experience you'll never forget.

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    Player power level doesn't hinder roleplay. It hinders playable combat. I've had roleplay sessions using Monopoly. It was fun not because the game is created to promote roleplay, but because it works and we can roleplay in addition to playing a well crafted game.

    The hobby really needs to lose the mentality that more combat equals less or sub-par roleplay. A challenging fight can be a good roleplay experience, but an easy fight can be a challenge to roleplay. I prefer both types of situations.

    Challenge your players roleplaying! There's nothing wrong with a system that promotes powerful characters as long as you explore what it really means to be powerful.
    Last edited by CEBedford; 08-23-2009 at 10:06 PM.

    "Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone."

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    Weak first level makes since, it represents a place in the world where you are beginning and have never faced the dangers you are facing now.

    It has been a rule of thumb for a number of years that if i want players to start off heroic, I start them off at a higher level depending on what their background is.

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    I don't think the changes made to 1st level characters gives them very much more power than they used to. The ability to cast 0-level spells at-will is a big change, but really it is more stylistic than powerful. So a wizard can cast acid splash all day long, that doesn't make him more powerful. Before Pathfinder, they could use a crossbow after they run out of spells to the same effect. The difference is that now they have something wizardly to do, rather than falling back on a martial skill not in their wheelhouse. The other changes affect PC's and NPC's and monsters alike. It just gives a little more option and wiggle room to 1st level adventures so they're not over so quickly. At low level, everything got a small power boost, so it all works out in the end.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kwixson View Post
    I don't think the changes made to 1st level characters gives them very much more power than they used to. The ability to cast 0-level spells at-will is a big change, but really it is more stylistic than powerful. So a wizard can cast acid splash all day long, that doesn't make him more powerful. Before Pathfinder, they could use a crossbow after they run out of spells to the same effect. The difference is that now they have something wizardly to do, rather than falling back on a martial skill not in their wheelhouse. The other changes affect PC's and NPC's and monsters alike. It just gives a little more option and wiggle room to 1st level adventures so they're not over so quickly. At low level, everything got a small power boost, so it all works out in the end.
    And so, kwixson uncovers the problem with fun-based rules. (Are we still on topic?) Sure, it's more fun for a caster to always have a spell available when he needs it. But it's also a role-playing game, with a game master responsible for role-playing every NPC in the world.

    So what does the NPC noble-merchant do when he finds out that a wizard can cast acid splash all day long? He kidnaps the wizard and forces him, at swordpoint, to fill beakers in mass-produced alchemy sets. Or to fertilize crops (altering pH levels). Or to sterilize the city sewers. One acid blast at a time.
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    Level 1

    I think it is always the DM/GM's responsibility to balance the campaign. I refer to "Rule Zero" whenever necessary.

    As long as the DM is carefully crafting each encounter with the players in mind, it will not matter what their power levels are. I try to give each session or encounter something specific to each charater's strengths and weaknesses. I only succeed about 1/2 the time, but the game remains balanced 100% of the time.

    This style of encounter development works even when characters have wildly different power levels and abilities.

    Not every encounter/sessions will have something for every character to do, but I make up for the ones that got missed next time.

    Hope this is useful and on-topic!

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    Quote Originally Posted by DMMike View Post
    So what does the NPC noble-merchant do when he finds out that a wizard can cast acid splash all day long? He kidnaps the wizard and forces him, at swordpoint, to fill beakers in mass-produced alchemy sets. Or to fertilize crops (altering pH levels). Or to sterilize the city sewers. One acid blast at a time.
    Yes, well, slavery is always an option. Of course, if the wizards can cast anything more powerful than 0 level spells the merchant with a sword is likely to get a surprise he won't like. Meanwhile, the merchant that has a couple commoner NPC slaves under his thumb merrily forces them to scrub the sewers to the same effect.

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    I really like the Pathfinder rules. There were a lot of known problems to the 3.0 rules that still really didn't get solved in 3.5 (Gate, for instance). Pathfinder nicely solved almost all of them.

    I felt that the criticism of spell casters (wizards in particular) of running out of spells early, was really unfounded. Yes, the rules would only give a first level specialist wizard, three spells per day, but he also had the scribe scroll feat. So, for 12.5 Gp a scroll (and a whopping 6XP) a first level wizards could pen any number of scrolls. As a GM, I always started my first level characters half-way between first and second in terms of experience so that wizards could use scribe scroll. They could enter a dungeon with, say, 10 spells on scrolls for only 125 GP and 60XP- which is really quite trivial compared to the power those spells will generate over the course of the dungeon.

    Any DM worth his salt should have allowed for wizards to have penned a decent number of scrolls before entering a dungeon to avoid the problems of running out of spells in the first encounter.

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    Thanks for the review. Excellent coverage!

    I've had a chance to play Pathfinder, and I'm finding the diversity within classes to be very agreeable. Wizards were broken down into basically 9 subclasses (schools) and among those you have the further option of choosing a Familiar or Bonded Object (which some would argue subclasses them into 18 Wizard types).

    Sorcerers were broken down into into subclasses called bloodlines and even within some of those such as the Elementalist and Draconic bumping up the subclass count to 22 types of sorcerers.

    The subtle Fighter training styles made the small section dedicated to the fighter class larger than the less than two pages dedicated to it.

    I liked the improvements in Druid diversity, too.

    From the 2 game sessions I've played, those 0 level spells really did make a difference in combat and out.

    I was not so impressed with the class alignment restrictions, which detracted from diversity in classes, but still playable withing the confines of the limited archetypes. I generally avoid classes with alignment restrictions (Druids not withstanding.)

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    I think it is always the DM/GM's responsibility to balance the campaign. I refer to "Rule Zero" whenever necessary.

    As long as the DM is carefully crafting each encounter with the players in mind, it will not matter what their power levels are. I try to give each session or encounter something specific to each charater's strengths and weaknesses. I only succeed about 1/2 the time, but the game remains balanced 100% of the time.
    I agree 100% with this statement. In my 30 some odd years of playing and DM'ing D&D this has always been true.

    The characters should always be challenged, so that their role play has more substance. After all an adventuring party of characters is composed of people, for whatever their personal reasons, that have chosen to live a life of adventure. They have taken their lives into their own hands, for better or worse, and thrown themselves into the fore of the world's troubles. If these trouble's are not risky then how can the players enjoy any of the rewards they receive from solving them? How can the players invest any real personality into their role play?

    The problem is not that the characters are too weak at first level, it is that their DM is allowing them to become too powerful at later levels. A party of adventurers should be challenged the same throughout their adventuring career regardless of level. It is the DM's job to insure that this is the case through adjustment and accomodation to the unknowns that the party introduces to the world that he or she has created.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Farcaster View Post
    Channel Energy creates a wave of either positive or negative energy extending thirty feet in every direction from the cleric. For goodly clerics who channel positive energy, this wave will heal all living targets or damage all undead for 1d6 points for every two levels the cleric possesses. Should the cleric be evil, this will be a wave of negative energy that either harms the living or heals the undead. This will be an immense help to the cleric who previously had to spend so many of his spells on healing.
    So if your party is fighting a bunch of evil, but living, creatures...wouldn't this heal enemies as well as your party? And if you're an evil party with some undead in its ranks, wouldn't you harm your living while healing your undead? I don't know anything about Pathfinder AT ALL other than what you've posted here, but I'd hope there are other similar-level spells that are more beneficial. This particular spell/skill/whatever seems like it would only be useful in REALLY uncommon situations...

    Cleric: "Ok, everyone in my party, run away from me so I can smite all the undead!"

    ...just doesn't seem like it would come up all that often.



    But anyway, since this evolved into "How powerful/weak should characters be" I'll put in my two coppers. My opinions...

    A 1st Level character is an everyday schlub who has had minimal training to begin adventuring (which is far more dangerous than the work of common folk). He has skills/spells that are minimally impressive, but enough to kill common folk pretty easily in 1-on-1 combat.

    Magic is very rare. Only the most intelligent people can understand it & use it, and it takes great study to make anything of it. This is why mages are not physically imposing...no time for weapons training or exercise because your nose is in a book constantly to try to figure it out. Liken it to a real-life specialty like neurosurgery...if you wanna nail it down pat, you're gonna have to REALLY dedicate yourself to it. Magic use can become very powerful only after much study, because if it were "easy" then everyone in the realm should know it.

    Likewise, only the tremendously wealthy should be able to skip learning magic and afford to purchase truly amazing magic items. Therefore I'm against low-level characters becoming extremely wealthy, extremely quickly. Otherwise you have mediocre Fighters & Fighter-types throwing high-damage fireballs from their rings of spell-storing...being so comparatively weak, they just shouldn't have access to such power.

    Michael said it best...BALANCE. The DM should monitor what the characters have & what they're doing with it. Gave someone a weapon that you thought would be a mild benefit, but it turns out its making things far too easy for the players? Find a way to take it away, lose it, or break it. The DM is effectively a god and can do whatever he/she wants, but again, do it for BALANCE, not for the egomaniacal "DM vs Players" mentality. Are the PC's suffering from really bad rolls in this dungeon? Who cares if the adventure book says there are only 3 potions of healing & the party already found them & used them...give them more, but don't spoil them into making foolish decisions because they catch on that "We can do whatever we want, the DM will keep us alive."

    And on the subject of what the adventure book says, I had the best time of my life playing D&D as a teenager 20 years ago. I wouldn't trade it for anything, seriously. But in retrospect...the DM gave us way too many magic items. He did it because it was in the adventure, but by the time our PC's retired (meaning we all graduated high school & split up to go to college and/or get a real job), we had probably 100 magic items. No joke. Stuff like magic eggs that when you throw them, they break open and a magic animal instantly grows out of it to aid in battle. Kind of nifty, but what are we gonna do with it when the novelty wears off? It became a hassle (when we'd throw an egg) to do the stats & such of the resulting animal, because we were much more powerful than the animals & could handle ourselves in battle.

    But to the point of 100 magic items sitting around doing nothing, BALANCE. The DM should have withheld most of those items. We obviously didn't need them. Being a DM is alot like being a parent...you want your child to succeed, but you want them to work for it so they feel like they accomplished something.

    Ok, I think I'm getting to a point where I'm going to start rambling (and I think I already did in a couple spots), so I'll cut it here.
    Dave (aka ChaunceyK)



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