JP On Gaming

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tweaking Pathfinder: Feat Over-Specialization

One of the frequent things in fantasy literature - and for this I generally refer to Robert E Howard's Conan, not the recent stuff - is that the protagonist adventures and explores the world. Then as he spends time in a given location, he picks up on the local weapons and armor and adds those new skills to his how, making the character grow in experience.

Now let's take the Pathfinder equivalent of Conan, we'll call Konan. At level 1, he picks up Weapon Focus (greatsword) and spends the rest of his life see any non-greatswords as loot the GM is trying to cheat out of him. "Another awesome longsword? I'll sell it and make my own sword better."

Ever heard that?

It gets even weirder when you adventure to a completely different continent: like Tian-Xia on Golarion, Maztica in Forgotten Realms (before they got rid of it) or the GM's latest idea in your home world. Whatever the case may be, the above-mention PC barbarian will forever be using a greatsword. While there might be a reason for a player to prefer his "ancestral, family greatsword," this should not be a reason for that character to never pick up or want to use a different weapon.

One thing I really liked about playing Warhammer Fantasy (I'm a 1e-er, never played the others), was the concept that most weapons all did basically the same thing. Whether your character picked up an axe, a mace or a sword your damage was the same. The few categories of weapons such as two-handed weapons, flails and small weapons all worked basically the same but had a few special rules. I really liked that. So my character started with his sword and later adopted the hammer as his weapon of choice without changing his stats. Even after I specialized in the hammer, there were a few fights where I would use my spear or my sword (usually after I dropped my hammer) and continued fighting. That's not something I often see in Pathfinder.

Let's be honest, the game encourages you to select common weapons as the "easiest to find". Then for players, they get to select feats that requires them to specialize in a specific type of weapon, compounding the problem. I'll admit being guilty of it myself. So by 12th level, a fighter could have a fair amount of feats invested in say the battle axe (Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, Greater Weapon Focus perhaps Improved Critical) and the party finds a great longsword. The longsword is quickly wrapped in a blanket and traded to the first trader they find.

So how do we fix it? Sure, a fighter may swap some feats every 4 levels... But what about everyone else? What about the above-mentioned barbarian?

To further push my reflection, I began to consider examining the Spell Focus feat. So my wizard, used to focus his efforts on evocation, but after a given adventure, he meets and studies with the Grand Enchanter of the realms. Or he dies and begins to spend his time studying the dark arts of necromancy... Why couldn't he change his specialty?

What I want to do (my goals)

Before I go off on a number of tangents, let's lay out what I want to do first.

         1 - Allow players (and to a lesser extent, GMs) to allow a character to evolve his specialties over the character's career.
         2 - I do not want this to be a "rebuilding" of one's character every time a PC finds a new item.
         3 - A character should spend some time with his new specialization. This is not a revolving door option.
         4 - By allowing variety, a GM can think of adding different weapons and loot drops into his adventure. You're not longer "just" finding long and short swords, but you can find the occasional a katana, a bastard sword, a spear, etc.

         5 - The changes should allow for added crunch, but also changing flavor over a character's career.

How to do it?

I considered a number of ideas.

         1 - Allow a player to change his specialty as soon as he spends X amount of time practicing. Perhaps the simplest of rules, but one I don't like. The various amounts of time included fighting X number of rounds, X number of combats or a flat time (modified by Intelligence OR Base Attack). But I disliked it. It felt too arbitrary overall and I found the solution to not be elegant.
         2 - If a player finds a master and spends "some" time with that master - usually between adventures - then he could swap. Usually this would include either a payment to the master or some service to do. I like this because a player seeking to find a master gives the GM a plot hook for future adventures. However, in my experience, players will either constantly seek a master OR completely ignore them to save their money. The third option included kidnapping the master and forcing him to teach them, but that's a different issue. I dropped that too as the final solution. Rather than forcing the PCs to meet a master, this could be done in a more role-play, than formalized.
         3 - I took a step back, examined my goals and then it hit me. A solution I felt elegant, simple enough and that filled my goals.

Rules Proposal

A PC possessing a feat that requires a specialization, such as Skill Focus, Spell Focus, or Weapon Focus can change his specialty every time he gains a new level. The exact method of how this is done is left to the individual GM as I know some GMs require that the PCs train (on their own or with a master) or that they spend some gold.

Now there is a caveat that all feat depending on one be changed at the same time to the same specialization. Thus a sorcerer with Spell Focus (evocation) and Greater Spell Focus (evocation) would have to change both at the same time to say - divination or transmutation.

However, feats not in the same tree such as Weapon Focus and Improved Critical do NOT have to be changed together. At that time, the player must decide whether he levels or not.

Whatever a given GM's specifics, most PCs spend at least a few sessions at one level before gaining a level.

Thus our Konan could take Weapon Focus (greatsword) at level 1. At 3rd level, he comes across a magical flail, so he decides to change his specialty to flail when he reaches level 4. Then at level 8 when he find a naginata, he can switch to that upon reaching 9th.

There you have it... A rule simple enough to not break the game, but that gives both players and GMs room for versatility and change during a character's career without completely rebuilding the character.

What do you think of it?



  1. That seems reasonable to me as I have never particularly cared for the ultra-specialized fighter which 3.x/Pathfinder seems to encourage.

  2. Pathfinder has weapon groups for the fighter Weapon Training ability. When I run the a game, I allow players would select weapon focus and weapon specialization to focus and specialize in a weapon group.

    I also allow fighters to create new groups, based on their history.