posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

Pathfinder Unchained was released in April of 2015, and is a collection of variant rules or houserules that Paizo deemed to be too radical to be published anywhere else, and so was being released here to cordon it off from the rest of the material.

While some parts of it are used rather frequently, every other Paizo product that was released after it still retains full compatibility with the Core rules. I decided to review this now because with the impending release of Pathfinder 2nd Edition, there's a couple of key ideas hinted at from what we know of it now, that came from Pathfinder Unchained.

Unchained Classes

The first chapter deals with four revisions of base classes. These are improvements over their original incarnations, but you'd never get Paizo to admit that they're supposed to be replacements.

The Unchained Barbarian was made a lot easier to use since their Rage now provides temporary HP and they gain flat bonuses to attack and damage rolls, rather than the D&D 3e convention of increasing your Constitution, Strength and Dexterity scores and asking the player to recompute the new values (and then un-recomputing them when the Rage fades). A lot of their Rage powers were also changed to last the entire time that the Barbarian is Raging, rather than on their own separate duration.

The Unchained Monk was given full BAB, their Flurry of Blows was made easier to use by simply letting them attack one more time, and most of their Ki powers were improved, and some of the legacy-D&D-3e abilities were made to work within the Ki power system (such as Quivering Palm costing 4 Ki points to use). They also got upgraded to a d10 hit die commensurate with their full BAB, but they did lose the Good Will save in exchange. As far as I know though, there's some compatibility problems with trying to use regular Monk Archetypes with the Unchained Monk because of how the abilities have changed (as in Archetypes that trade out class abilities that no longer exist).

The Unchained Rogue gets Weapon Finesse for free, and then also gets Dex-to-damage for free at level 3. They also get a new Debilitating Injury class ability that lets them inflict AC, or attack, or speed penalties against targets. Finally, they also receive the Edge class ability, which gives them free Skill Unlocks, which is a new set of rules elaborated-upon later in this book. Really though, the big deal is just the Weapon Finesse and the Dex-to-damage abilities, since that frees up a feat tax and makes the class far less MAD and makes it more of a viable class compared to, say, the Ninja as a replacement.

The Unchained Summoner is not one that I'm rather familiar with, but as far as I can tell, a lot of the changes were to how it constructs its Eidolon and its spell list - the changes amount to nerfs, one might say fairly significant ones, but also because the regular Summoner is largely acknowledged to be a very powerful class as-written.

It's the Unchained Rogue and Monk that get the most attention when this section of the book is used, because they are a lot better than their regular versions. The Unchained Summoner also gets play, and I assume that the reason there's not a lot of talk about the Unchained Barbarian is because it's mostly an ease-of-use revision rather than a balance change. All in all, this is a good and useful part of the book, and I'd recommend using the revised classes if you're going to be playing any of them at all.

Fractional Base Bonuses

This is a rule adapted from D&D 3e's Unearthed Arcana, which basically breaks down the Base Attack and saving throw bonuses into their fractional amounts so that you don't miss out on whole points because of rounding-down issues.

It's a good rule that I imagine most people were already using long before Unchained came out because it came from D&D 3e, and I have to assume that this is here mostly to pad the page count.


As an aside, a lot of rules from Unchained are going to come from Unearthed Arcana, but it's also the case that variant rules from Unearthed Arcana have also popped up in various other Pathfinder books, such as Ultimate Combat containing the armor-as-DR rules and the wounds-and-vigor rules.

Staggered Advancement

This rule splits up a level into quarters and lets you get partial level-ups as you earn experience towards those smaller benchmarks. Normally, one would require 2000 XP to get from level 1 to level 2. What this rule does is it sets a benchmark at 500 XP, 1000 XP, and 1500 XP. Whenever you get to that point, you choose either to increase your BAB, increase your saving throw bonus, increase your HP by half of your normal gain, or increase your skill points by half your normal gain. You still need to get to level 2 to gain everything, but the idea seems to be to let players earn some things sooner than later.

It's a ... workable rule, but it's also very book-keepy, and assumes that you'd be using the XP rules, which I imagine most playing groups do not.

Background Skills

This rule shifts most of the knowledge-based skills into their own separate category of Background Skills, of which everyone always gets 2 skill points to sink into every level.

Consolidated Skills

This rule merges a lot of skills and cuts them down to just 12, from an original 35.

It does however also cut down on the number of skill points that every class gets. For example, a Fighter only gets 1 skill point per level, plus half-a-point per +1 Int modifier. Or a Rogue gets 4 skill points per level, plus half a point per +1 Int modifier.

This means that where a Fighter used to be able to cover 5.7% of all the skills (2/35), now they get to cover 8.3% of the skills (1/12). Or where a Rogue used to be able to cover 22.85% of all the skills (8/35), now they get to cover 33% of all the skills (4/12).

Grouped Skills

This rule creates six different skill groups: Natural, Perceptive, Physical, Scholarly, Social, and Thieving, and then places all 35 regular skills somewhere within those groups.

Characters then gain a number of skill groups and a number of skill specialties.
If they make a skill check with a skill that they have as a specialty, they add their character level to the roll.
If they make a skill check with a skill that's inside a skill group that they know (but the skill is not their specialty), they add half their character level to the roll.
If they're both unspecialized in the skill and don't know the corresponding skill group, then they don't add anything except their ability modifier.

For example, a Fighter knows 2 groups and 1 specialty at level 1. They gain a second group at level 10.
A Rogue knows 3 groups at level 1, and they gain an additional group at levels 8 and 18 (so 5 out of 6 groups total).
All characters start with 1 skill specialty at level 1, and gain an additional one about every other level, ending at 11 by level 20, though this is the one that's actually affected by having high Int.

The rule broadens the capabilities of characters, and simplifies character creation by eliminating the process of having to allocate skill points, but it does come at some cost in relative power, since you're losing a +3 to the check at the top-end.

Between the different skill rules, it's the Background Skills that require the least work for the most benefit for those that really need it (such as effectively doubling the skill points of a Fighter), and then it's the Grouped Skills that simplify and broaden your horizons by a lot with a minimum of headache. The Consolidated Skill Rules are good in theory, but require a lot of conversion work with existing items, feats, abilities, etc.

Alternate Crafting Rules

This rule rejiggers the way Craft works so that you measure progress on a per day basis: like the standard crafting rules, you still complete the item once your "progress" matches the item's cost, but there is now a table that gives you the amount of progress you can make per day, eliminating the multiplication and per-week calculations of the regular crafting rules.

It's a good change in my opinion, though I don't know how many people closely track the Craft rules anyway.

Alternate Profession Rules

This rule includes tables and references on how to set-up an actual business to support your profession, whether you're a cook, an innkeeper, a librarian, a shepherd, a barrister, and so on. There's rules for the size of the business, hiring labor, determining profits, etc. etc.

I can't imagine myself ever using this myself, and I have no doubt that there's some math flaw in this somewhere were someone to dig deep into it.

Skill Unlocks

This section of rules adds special abilities that you can gain once you hit so many ranks in certain skills. A character can take the new Signature Skill feat to make themselves eligible to use the skill unlocks for a single skill, but then the Unchained Rogue's Edge ability lets them get skill unlocks for free.

As an example of what Skill Unlocks are capable of:

Acrobatics 5 halves the penalty for trying to Tumble through spaces without provoking an AOO
Acrobatics 10 lets you use Acrobatics checks against trip attempts and Reflex saves to avoid falling
Acrobatics 15 eliminates provoking AOOs when standing up from prone
Acrobatics 20 lets you double your Acrobatics results when jumping

Bluff 5 halves the penalty for successive Bluff attempts on the same creature
Bluff 10 eliminates the penalty
Bluff 15 lets you make a Bluff check to foil attempts at mind-reading, or alignment detection, or magical truth-telling
Bluff 20 lets you cast the Suggestion spell

Climb 5 lets you keep your Dex bonus to AC while climbing
Climb 10 gives you a flat climb speed of 10 feet as long as the climb DC is 20 or less
Climb 15 gives you a flat climb speed equal to your normal movement as long as the DC is 20 less, and 10 feet for everything else
Climb 20 gives you a flat climb speed on everything

Disguise 5 lets you create your disguise in 1d3 minutes
Disguise 10 lets you create your disguise in 1d3 rounds, and eliminates the gender, race, and age penalties if you take the normal duration
Disguise 15 lets you create your disguise as a full-round action
Disguise 20 lets you create your disguise as a standard action, or a full-round action that includes a Bluff check to let you hide

The rest of them are all like this, with the Climb ones perhaps being the most daring. Everything else is just reducing penalties and letting you accomplish things faster. It would have been an interesting development if Skill Unlocks were something more like Legend RPG granting you the ability to Acrobatics on a snowflake at a high enough DC, but no such luck. Characters are still going to be largely terrestrial sans magic.

Variant Multiclassing

This rule allows you to trade away every other feat (that is, the feats at level 3, 7, 11, 15, and 19) to gain a core class ability from another class.

As an example, you can get the Barbarian's Rage at level 3, their Uncanny Dodge at level 7, a single Rage Power at level 11, DR 3/- at level 15, and Greater Rage at level 19.

The problem with this rule is that the abilities are way too far apart and way too conservative from discouraging people from trying normal multiclassing, or even against just taking the feat that they traded away.

The Gunslinger is perhaps the exemplar of how bad this section is: you gain proficiency with firearms at level 3, and then the Gunsmith class feature at level 7, and then the Amateur Gunslinger class feature at level 11. It would take you more than half the game to gain basic use of firearms via VMC, when you could just as easily either take a 1-level dip in Gunslinger, or just take the feats themselves, or take an Archetype.

It's a bad rule, and one whose badness should have been easily detectable.


posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

The Alignment Track

This is a set of rules that seeks to "gamify" the alignment system (further). First, it presents us with this alignment track:

Then, it allows players to place themselves either in the middle of the track, or wherever they want to start as. Classes with alignment restrictions are instead automatically placed in the most central position that still hits their alignment prerequisites, such as a Paladin starting at position 3 Lawful and position 3 Good.

And then the book tells the GM that they should present the players with scenarios and decisions that will cause them to move across the track, with whatever repercussions that that implies.

And then, if a player is already on the extreme end of a track, and continues to make decisions that would have made them move beyond the end (even more Good when you're already at position 1 Good), then they gain an Affirmation, which is basically a meta-currency that you can use to obtain a thematically appropriate bonus.

For example, spending a Good Affirmation gives you a +2 bonus to damage or healing when using positive energy, or allows you to impose a -4 penalty to damage if the blow is about to made against an ally or an innocent character. Spending a Chaotic Affirmation allows you to roll twice and take either result when attempting a Reflex or Will save.

The section also has Alignment Feats, which are feats you can get at level 10 or later, and they allow you to store your Affirmation points for longer than 24 hours, as well as boosting the effects of the Affirmation spend, as well as granting you some other small active or passive ability, such as the Champion of Freedom feat for very Chaotic Good people letting them cast Freedom of Movement.

Personally, I'm someone who doesn't really bother with alignment at all, but if one were to use alignment, then this is probably more the shape of what it should probably be - as a descriptor of what one has done, rather than a prescriptor of one's behavior during gameplay.

On the other hand, the reason why I don't bother with alignment in the first place is because it gets into all these tricky questions of "who is innocent?" when you're trying to determine if the Affirmation can be used to protect a certain NPC.

Removing Alignment

This section suggests doing away with alignment completely. It has some class-specific guidelines on what to do, such as Smite Evil being redefined to "any foe whose loyalties are directly contrary to the paladin’s highest loyalty". This still strikes me as somewhat vague and narrow, but the book ultimately shies away from simply letting the player Smite whoever they well please.

The Full Removal option is perhaps too short to be useful, since it only says that you'll need to come up with something to replace all the alignment-specific stuff.

Shameless Plug posted:

but if one were to consider something more fleshed-out, I do recommend Quasar Knight's Death to Alignment supplement, which covers this topic extensively and in detail.

This section also proposes a couple of other alignment-model alternatives:

Aligned Loyalties lets you assume alignments are based on characters pledging loyalty to the various concepts of alignment. It's implied that this is different since it allows a person to behave however they want, so long as it's nominally in service of the loyalty that they have pledged to.

Outsiders Only lets you project alignments onto supernatural creatures only. Mortals exist in a world with shades of gray, but a devil is still Evil absolutely.

Radiant and Shadow lets you remove the normal alignment definitions, replace them with "Radiant" and "Shadow", presume that every creature is tied to or related to or is derived from one of these two forms of energies, and call it good. Like Aligned Loyalties, it frees people from the prescriptivism of normal alignment rules since it's simply something that you're both with, though this does come with some potentially unsavory implications.

Subjective Morality


You can make your world extremely complex by replacing all alignment-based effects with subjective morality based on loyalties.

In this kind of game, everyone is the hero of his own story, and the only alignment-based items and spells that exist are the ones named after the good alignment (such as holy weapons and holy word) plus detect evil. However, these effects apply not to good in the usual sense, but instead depend on the loyalties of their users.

When someone uses detect evil, it detects others who have loyalties that oppose the caster’s.

When a character wields a holy weapon, it deals extra damage to those with conflicting loyalties, and so on.

It’s up to the GM to decide when loyalties conflict. For instance, if a magus decides that his primary loyalty is to himself, he could not reasonably claim that everything that ever attacks him has a conflicting loyalty, but an enemy who constantly abused him in the past would have a conflicting loyalty. Against this enemy, the magus’s holy attacks would strike true.

This world might even do away with the idea of loyalties to the concept of good and allow paladins and antipaladins alike to use the paladin class and smite each other.

Since even outsiders no longer have an alignment subtype, you’ll need to add other subtypes to the list of choices for abilities such as bane or a ranger’s favored enemy class feature. This covers subtypes such as demon or devil, but some outsiders have no non-alignment subtype. If you want such creatures to be subject to these abilities, you could lump them together under a new subtype (such as “independent”), or add subtypes on a case-by-case basis—the astral leviathan might have the “astral” subtype, for example.

As I've said, I personally don't use alignment, but the Full Removal option here is lackluster because of how it doesn't really address the issue at all. Aligned Loyalties and Radiant and Shadow are perhaps the more easily-used options that don't require a lot of formal rejiggering of the rules. Subjective Morality sounds way too involved for someone to ever want to bother with. Maybe you should be playing something Dogs in the Vineyard or Fiasco for something like that.

Action Economy

posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

Revised Action Economy

This extensive set of new rules changes things so that each character has 3 "Acts", and then all possible actions simply take one, two, or three Acts to do.

An attack is one Act.
Combat Maneuvers are one Act.
Aid Another is one Act.
Moving your speed is one Act.
Taking a 5-foot-step is one Act.
Casting a spell or using an ability that normally takes a Swift Action is one Act.

Casting a spell or using an ability that normally takes a Standard Action is two Acts.
Charging is two Acts.

Making a coup de grace is three Acts.
Casting a spell or using an ability that normally takes a Full-Round Action is three Acts.

It's supposed to make the game simpler, and in some respects it manages to do that. For example, reducing a 5-foot-step to an Act removes all of the normal exceptions and special cases surrounding it. But in other areas, things are either more complicated, or at least still requires its own special set of exceptions.

One big example is making attacks. There are no more "iterative attacks". Instead, you can (just) spend multiple Acts on the Attack action, with each succeeding attack having a cumulative -5 penalty.
If you're dual-wielding, then on your first attack, you can attack with your main-hand and your off-hand.
If you have the Improved Two-Weapon Fighting feat, then you can attack with both hands on your first and second attacks.
If you have the Greater Two-Weapon Fighting feat, then you can attack with both hands on all your attacks.
And then the same special case applies to Flurry of Blows, and so on.

Drawing and nocking an arrow is a free action. But reloading a crossbow is two Acts, and reloading a firearm is three Acts. So they still kept that particular wrinkle in the rules.

Haste gives you one more Act per turn, but that Act can only be used to make an attack action.

Now besides the "simpler or not" mechanical consideration of these rules, it also has some knock-on effects towards balance:

Martial classes no longer have iterative attacks, which means they actually lose the fourth attack at +16 BAB and up.
At the same time, characters can make 3 attacks per round beginning at level 1. The second and third attacks are likely to miss, but you can still fish for a nat 20.
At the same time, monsters can do this too, and it potentially makes the game a hell of a lot more dangerous at that level.

Because Swift Actions still count as one Act, it potentially screws over classes that heavily on them, such as Investigators. You may need to still give these classes their own version of "this takes no Action, but you can only do it once per turn".


As an aside, what we know from Pathfinder 2nd Edition preview content is that the game is moving towards this model as its standard rules. A couple of variations on the Unchained rules is that supposedly some weapon types and special abilities will allow characters to mitigate the effects of the -5 successive attack penalty, as well as spells taking 1 Act to per category of V, S, and M that they use.

It's wonky, and it's not actually simpler for anyone who's a veteran of d20 D&D, but I would absolutely use this to introduce the game to newer players. But for any game where you're all deep into the system mastery of Pathfinder, I feel like you'd spend too much brain power doing the conversions back-and-forth.

Removing Iterative Attacks

This seeks to streamline the process of rolling three or more attacks and their associated damage whenever someone takes a Full Attack action.

Basically, you only roll your attack once, at your full attack bonus and then:

* If the result misses the target's AC by 6 or more, then you miss completely and nothing happens
* If the result misses the target's AC by 5 or less, you deal a Glancing Blow, which is defined as "assume you rolled a one on all your damage dice, plus all modifiers, and then cut the total in half"
* If you hit the target's AC, then you hit.
* For every 5 points that you exceed the target's AC, you hit again, but with a cap on the extra hits based on your BAB (so you can't hit more times than you normally could)

* If you're dual-wielding, use the attack bonus of whichever hand is lower. For every hit that you score, you also hit with both weapons.

* If rolled high enough to hit multiple times, and you threaten a critical hit, roll to confirm. If the confirmation roll still confirms, then two of your hits will have been considered to have crit. If the confirmation roll does not confirm, then only one of your hits will have been considered to have crit.

Let's examine this in some more detail: assume a level 17 Fighter with a total attack bonus of +31, attacking a CR 17 monster with 28 AC.

32 - the Fighter lands 1 hit (4 more than target AC)
33 - the Fighter lands 2 hits (5 more than target AC)
34 - the Fighter lands 2 hits
35 - the Fighter lands 2 hits
36 - the Fighter lands 2 hits
37 - the Fighter lands 2 hits
38 - the Fighter lands 3 hits (10 more than target AC)
39 - the Fighter lands 3 hits 
40 - the Fighter lands 3 hits 
41 - the Fighter lands 3 hits 
42 - the Fighter lands 3 hits 
43 - the Fighter lands 4 hits (15 more than target AC)
44 - the Fighter lands 4 hits 
45 - the Fighter lands 4 hits 
46 - the Fighter lands 4 hits 
47 - the Fighter lands 4 hits 
48 - if the Fighter had Haste, or some other way to obtain a 5th attack, they'd land 5 hits (20 more than target AC)
49 - the Fighter could potentially land 5 hits
50 - the Fighter could potentially land 5 hits
51 - the Fighter could potentially land 5 hits; and this would threaten a crit, and the crit would always confirm, so the Fighter would always land 2 crits.
So that's a 100% chance of landing at least 1 hit, a 95% chance of landing at least 2 hits, a 70% chance of landing at least 3 hits, and a 45% chance of landing the full 4 hits.

Compare this to rolling the dice the normal way:

The first attack would have a 95% chance to hit (because a natural 1 is always a miss)
The second attack would have a 95% chance to hit (in this case, a natural 1 would plainly miss anyway)
The third attack would have a 70% chance to hit
And the fourth attack would have a 45% chance to hit
I suppose my illustration just came to the same conclusion in a roundabout way, but since iteratives take a -5 penalty per succeeding attack, then obviously giving you another hit for every 5 points that you exceed the AC would translate to roughly the same thing. If anything, the default rolling method is actually a little worse, since you still always have that 5% chance to miss on a natural 1.

From my personal perspective, I've been spoiled by roll20, so I can't see myself using this rule since it's easy for me to type "[[d20+31]]; [[d20+31-5]]; [[d20+31-10]]; [[d20+31-15]]" and get all my attack roll results in one go. Trying to do this on paper might yield a different experience. On the one hand, this alternative method requires less rolling. On the other hand, coming up with the "success margin" requires an additional bit of math that might take some getting used to.

It is nice though to have a rule where the math isn't fucked, and for that I give this section some credit.


posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

Stamina and Combat Tricks

This section details a fairly extensive set of rules to introduce a new mechanic: Combat Tricks, which are powered by Stamina points.

First, how do you get it?

The simplest way is to make it into a feat
Another suggestion is make it into a feat, and then make it into a free feat that Fighters get at level 1, since it's supposed to boost them (and other martial classes)
Yet another suggestion is to make it into a free feat that all martial classes get at level 1
One last suggestion is to make it into a Fighter-only ability, so that Fighters get the new abilities, but not anyone else

What does it do?

Combat Stamina, as a baseline, lets you earn Stamina points. You have a maximum equal to your BAB + your CON modifier.
You regenerate 1 Stamina point per 1 minute of non-strenuous activity. This practically means that you get all of them back after every fight/encounter, unless you're a real stickler for detail.

The ability, all by itself, lets you spend 1 Stamina point to gain a +1 bonus to your attack roll. You can spend them after you make the roll, but before you're told of the result. You can spend up to 5 of them in this way.

This is a marginally useful ability all on its own, but the real meat-and-potatoes of this rules section is supposed to be its interactions will all of the combat feats - you're supposed to be able to pull of "Combat Tricks" by spending Stamina points to gain special effects based on what combat feats you have.

For example, if you spend 2 Stamina points on Power Attack, you can shorten the effects to just until the end of your turn, instead of until the end of your next turn. This is supposed to be advantageous since your Attacks of Opportunity then won't suffer from the attack penalty (in exchange for the damage bonus).

I'm going to draw mostly from Core Rulebook feats here so that they're most familiar with you all, but to demonstrate the kind of things that these Combat Tricks are supposed to let you do:

* Combat Reflexes - if you miss with an AOO, you can spend 5 Stamina points to make another AOO (triggered by the same action). This second AOO has a -5 penalty, and it costs one of your AOOs for the turn.
* Improved Critical - if your attack roll is short of threatening a crit by 3 or less (so like a nat 16, 17, or 18 on a 19-20 weapon), you can spend 5 Stamina points. If you do, you can roll to confirm a critical. If this confirmation roll is successful, you deal double damage (specifically only double, not whatever crit multiplier you would normally have).
* Improved Trip - you can take this feat even if you don't have 13 Intelligence, but it will only work as long as you still have 1 Stamina point. Also, you can spend a number of Stamina points equal to your Str or Dex modifier to gain a CMD (that's DEFENSE) bonus against Trip attempts made against you.
* Greater Trip - you can take this feat even if you don't have 13 Intelligence, but it will only work as long as you still have 1 Stamina point. Also, you can spend 2 Stamina points after a successful Trip attempt to deal an additional 1d6 points of falling damage against the tripped target.
* Point-Blank Shot - you can spend up to 6 Stamina points to increase the point-blank range by 5 feet per point spent
* Precise Shot - you can spend 2 Stamina points to make a ranged attack against an enemy engaged with an ally. If it hits, the attack deals no damage, but the ally can choose to either get a +2 AC bonus against that enemy, or a +2 attack bonus against that enemy
* Quick Draw - as long as you have 1 Stamina point, you can sheathe a weapon as a swift action
* Rapid Reload - you can spend 5 Stamina points to reduce the action economy of the reload action by one more step
* Shield Focus - you can spend up to 2 Stamina points to gain an AC bonus against one attack. The bonus is equal to the number of points you spent.
* Stunning Fist - you can spend 5 Stamina points to be able to declare a use of Stunning Fist only after you already know that the unarmed attack has hit
* Weapon Specialization/Focus - you can spend 2 Stamina points to make this feat work with a weapon that you don't currently have it selected for, for one round
* Whirlwind Attack - you can spend 5 Stamina points in order to make one more extra/bonus attack that you'd normally be able to do.

If all of this sounds underwhelming, that's because it really is. The Combat Reflexes and Improved Critical effects are probably the most blatant examples of how unambitious all this shit is. It's very similar to Skill Unlocks in that the concept is laudable, but the execution leaves you something to be desired because it's all just nickel-and-dime shit.

One of Sid Meier's design rules is that if you're going to adjust something in a game that's too small or too large, you shouldn't dick around with 5% or 10% adjustments because nobody is going to notice that, and since you have a limited number of patch cycles/development time, you need maximum impact. I feel like the same should apply here: notwithstanding that none of these things ever makes a martial class capable of "supernatural" abilities, it's also the case that asking someone to track Stamina points and spend them to ... get a CHANCE to do an extra thing is just tedious busywork for not much results.

If you're going to staple-on a new system to the game, it had better have some real impact: spend a point to guarantee a crit and a confirm. Spend a point to do a full-attack where all your attacks are whirlwind attacks. Spend a point to guarantee a Trip attempt. Spend a point to guarantee an AOO. And so on and so forth.

Mind you, they covered all the combat feats from all of the heretofore released supplements, Ultimate Combat, Advanced Class Guide, Advanced Race Guide, etc etc etc. For them to spend 23 pages on this stuff only to have it be this piss-weak is frustrating to say the least.


posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

Wound Thresholds

These rules are designed to change the current model of characters always being 100% fighting-fit right up until they're knocked-out/dead, as a means of driving tension, increasing the strategic value of healing (beyond just keeping a character above 0 HP) and as a sop to realism.

If you're below 75% of your maximum health (Grazed), you take a -1 penalty to attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, AC, and caster level.

If you're below 50% of your maximum health (Wounded), you take a -2 penalty.

If you're below 25% of your maximum health (Critical), you take a -3 penalty.

The game then even recommends a "Gritty Mode" where the penalties are doubled, as well as recommending that the GM only use the Wounded state to avoid monsters from becoming too complicated to run.

To its credit, the book correctly warns the reader about the possibility of this rule turning fights into "death spirals": where the side that's already behind only ever falls behind even more, and falls faster, and can't ever recover or snap back, because being hurt already makes you worse.

The main problem with this rule is that it is at its most significant at low levels: a Fighter with the -2 Wounded penalty is losing something like a third of their total attack bonus at level 1, but they're only losing maybe 15 to 20% of their attack bonus by level 5. But the lowest levels of the game are already the ones that are the most difficult and dangerous.

It also doesn't really solve the issue of healing having being less important than it otherwise might be. Without getting into a broader discussion of game design, the causes for that are much more deep-seated.


posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

New Disease and Poison Rules

These rules replace the normal rules for diseases and poisons.

First, it creates a 6-step track:
Healthy - Latent/Carrier - Weakened - Impaired - Disabled - Bedridden - Comatose - Dead

Then, it defines:
* penalties for every step of the track
* the saving throw DC against the effects of the poison/disease
* the frequency of the saving throws against the effect (failing it means moving down the track by 1 state)
* how the effect can be cured (besides the usual cure spells)

For example, let's take the Demon Fever disease:

* when you're Weakened, you suffer from the Sickened and Fatigued conditions
* when you're Impaired, you suffer from the Exhausted condition, plus whenever you take a Standard action you have to pass a Fort save or you lose your turn
* when you're Disabled, you suffer from the Disabled condition, plus you lose 1 HP whenever you take an action
* when you're Bedridden ... you're bedridden. You can't move or act on your own and can only converse
* when you're Dead ... you're dead
* the Fort DC against this disease is 18
* you make a Fort save against it once per day
* you can Cure it (i.e. move UP the track by 1 state) by making two consecutive successful saves

And then as an example of poisons, let's take the Id Moss poison:

* when you're Weakened, you take a -2 penalty to all Intelligence ability checks and Intelligence-based skill checks. You also get a -2 penalty to the save DCs of all your Intelligence-based spells, and you cannot cast your highest level of spells
* when you're Impaired, you also no longer gain bonus spell slots from having high Intelligence, and any ability pools that are based on Intelligence are no longer increased by your Intelligence. The save DC penalty increases to -4, and you cannot your your two-highest levels of spells
* when you're Animalistic, you suffer from the effects of the Feeblemind spell
* when you're Comatose ... you're comatose.
* when you're Dead ... you're dead
* the Fort DC against this disease is 14
* as with all poisons, you take HP damage as soon as you're exposed to the poison, whether you successfully or not. The damage is equal to the save DC, minus 10, and then divided by 2, or in this case 2 damage
* you make a Fort save against it once per per minute for 6 minutes
* you can Cure it by making a successful save

There's a fairly extensive list of diseases and poisons of varying potencies and potential uses, and sometimes they play around with the mechanics: some effects don't go beyond the third or fourth track (and so can't kill you), while some effects can only be cured by magic, and some effects have (near-)permanent effects even after they've been cured.

This section I would say accomplishes some of the goals that it set out for itself: because the effects no longer just inflict stat penalties, they're both easier to integrate into the game without needing to do a lot of derived-stat-math, and the penalties can be both gentler at the early onset and harsher at the late stages. This sort of progression is also more intuitive to deal with, and dare I say realistic, but in a good way. It divorced itself from the D&D 3rd Edition model of diseases and poisons, and is arguably all the better for it.

What it does not address is the relative power of spells like Neutralize Poison and Cure Disease and Heal to simply remove most of these effects completely. High-level spellcasters that are willing to put in the effort will not have a problem dealing with most diseases and poisons unless they're shackled/limited in some other way. Overall, I'd say these rules are well worth using.


posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

Simplified Spellcasting

These rules are supposed to "simplify" spellcasting by changing low-level spells into a spontaneous pool. The book explains that once (prepared) spellcasters get to higher levels, they have a lot of low-level spell slots that they need to track, and this gets fiddly and tedious. Therefore, they propose converting all but the three-highest spell levels into a shared pool that can be cast spontaneously.

For example:

A level 6 Wizard has three 1st-level spell slots, three 2nd-level spell slots, and two 3rd-level spell slots (plus bonus spells).
This does not change under Simplified Spellcasting, since the three-highest spell levels are all the spell levels that they currently have

A level 7 Wizard has four 1st-level spell slots, three 2nd-level spell slots, two 3rd-level spell slots, and one 4th-level spell slot (plus bonus spells)
under Simplified Spellcasting, a level 7 Wizard instead has a Spell Pool, three 2nd-level spell slots, two 3rd-level spell slots, and one 4th-level spell slot (plus bonus spells)

The Spell Pool at level 7 is 1, plus 25% of your spellcasting modifier, so at 18 Int, the Spell Pool would be 2.

The Spell Pool lets the Wizard spontaneously cast any level spell covered under it. In this case, they could cast any two 1st-level spells that they want, without having to prepare/memorize them ahead of time.

To extend the example, a level 20 Wizard has four 7th-level spell slots, four 8th-level spell slots, four 9th-level spell slots, and then a Spell Pool of 5 (plus bonus spells), and then the Spell Pool covers everything else from 1st-level to 6th-level spells.

Two things are immediately obvious with this system:

* You are effectively losing a TON of potential spells this way - even the level 7 Wizard is going from four 1st-level spell slots, down to two or so.
* The assumption is that you won't need that many - a level 7 Wizard has six spells before they have to dip into their Pool.

Now, the idea is that you'd mostly use the Pool spells for "utility"-type spells, and that this helps the player by letting them freely pick between Alarm, Hold Portal, and Floating Disk without having to commit ahead of time, but if you kept the old system and simply used the extra spell slots to have two Alarms, two Hold Portals, and two Floating Disks, then you still get all the utility that you need anyway, and this system is still technically a restriction on your power!

So from a practical standpoint, I'd use this system - it restricts the power of spellcasters by robbing them of spell slots, and then it also does reduce the book-keeping. But it doesn't really just simplify spellcasting - it actively changes the power level of the game.

Limited Magic

These rules change how spell DCs and caster levels are computed. It assumes that all spells are cast with the minimum possible caster level with the minimum possible spellcasting stat.

If you cast a 1st-level spell:
* the spellcasting stat is always considered to be a 10/+0
* the save DC is always considered to be 11: [10 + 0 spellcasting modifier + 1 spell level]
* the caster level is always considered to be 1: so a caster level check to overcome Spell Resistance would always be [d20+1]

Aid would always last just 1 minute and only offer 1d8+1 temp HP, while Magic Missile would always have a range 110 feet and would only ever shoot 1 missile.

If you cast a 5th-level spell:
* the spellcasting stat is always considered to be 15/+2
* the save DC is always considered to be 17: [10 + 2 spellcasting modifier + 5 spell level]
* the caster level is always considered to be 9: so a caster level check to overcome Spell Resistance would always be [d20+9]

Cone of Cold would always only deal 9d6 cold damage, and Wall of Stone would always create 2-inch-thick walls and only be 9 squares long.

This has some practical utility: if the spell stats are static, then you could pretty much treat them as "ability cards", since there's never any computation required.

The more obvious change is that it significantly reduces the power of spellcasters.

The problem with these rules is that it still preserves a lot of power anyway, because actual effects can vary wildly depending on what the spell actually does. Anything that lasts a minute or an hour per level and just applies a flat effect is probably going to be just fine, such as Fly lasting for 5 minutes or Haste lasting for 5 rounds and still being able affect up to 5 targets.

Feeblemind is going to be resisted maybe between 40 to 50% of the time by vulnerable targets, but as long as you land it, then the target is just as disabled anyway.

Meanwhile, direct damage spells are hit thrice as hard: their damage is locked, their save DC is locked, and their Spell Resistance check is locked.

I wouldn't be totally against trying these rules out for a spin, but at the same time, I can understand why people would just refuse to play a spellcaster if I did, and especially a "blaster"-type build. I can kind of tell what they were going for with these rules, but it just seems like if you wanted to restrain spellcaster power, there are other ways to do it, up to and including playing a different game that doesn't require so much rejiggering.


posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

Wild Magic

This is a d100 table of effects that the DM can trigger to introduce some lolrandomness to spellcasting!

There are 34 entries in this list:

* 12 of them are explicitly detrimental to the caster
* 11 of them are situationally good or bad
* 2 of them don't really do anything
* 9 of them are explicitly beneficial to the caster

If the result that you roll can't be applied because of the specific nature of the spell, then there's a Universal Surge Effect table: 1 to 20 means the caster takes 1d6 damage, 21 to 80 means the caster is affected by Faerie Fire (which is usually bad), and 81 to 100 means the caster gains 1d6 temp HP.

When a Wild Magic roll happens is supposedly left deliberately vague so that the DM can use it at their discretion, but the book recommends the following triggers:

* whenever the caster fails a concentration check
* whenever a spell is dispelled or counterspelled
* whenever a spell is cast inside a DM-determined "Wild Magic Zone"
* whenever a caster wants to apply metamagic without spending a higher-level slot - they can make a caster level check with a DC equal to [10 + spell level + 5 for every one increased spell level caused by the metamagic]. If they succeed, they cast the spell successfully with the metamagic applied, plus they get to roll on the Wild Magic table. If they fail, they still get it, but the Wild Magic roll has a penalty equal to the margin of failure.

The book also mentions that DMs can apply bonuses and penalties to the d100 Wild Magic rolls, since the table is weighted such that high rolls have the good results and low rolls have the bad results.

Spell Fumbles

If the target of a spell rolls a 20 on their saving throw, they might cause a spell fumble. They roll a second time to confirm. If the confirmation roll is still a successful save, then the spell is Fumbled, and the caster rolls a d10 to apply an effect based on the table below:

Personally, I don't like mechanics like these, and I can't see myself using them. When people get to thinking of applying "fumble" rules, it's usually the martial classes that get shafted because magic still goes off without a hitch, but the solution isn't necessarily to also give the spellcasters a random chance at fucking up, it's to not use fumbles at all.

Spell Criticals

If the target of a spell rolls a 1 on their saving throw, they might get a spell critical. They roll a second time to confirm. If the confirmation roll is still a failed save, then the spell is a critical. Any numeric effect is doubled, and any effect that does not have a numeric effect, such as charm, instead has its duration doubled.

Direct book quote posted:

The GM is encouraged to apply other types of doubling where appropriate. For instance, a poison spell might afflict a target with 2 doses of poison on a critical hit instead of doubling the effect of the poison.

I had forgotten to write this section at first and had to edit it in later, because this "rule" is such an afterthought that it barely takes up a paragraph and simply tells you to double-up on some stuff and make something up. It's so lazy.


posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

Overclocked Spells

This is a fairly simple rule: the spellcaster can take a Spellcraft check, with DC equal to [15 + spell level + minimum caster level needed for the spell].
If they succeed, then they can choose to increase the save DC of the spell by 2, or their effective caster level by 2
If they fail, nothing happens and they lose the spell slot
If they fail by a lot, they suffer a Spell Fumble

The main interaction of this rule seems to be to combo it with Limited Spells: if they succeed at overclocking, instead of a +2 to DC or caster level, they instead get to use the spell at their full caster level and full ability score, instead of the Limited Spells cap.

To use this in an otherwise regular game is just another buff to casters who are likely taking lots of ranks in Spellcraft anyway, so largely redundant/unnecessary.

Spell Attack Rolls

This is a snippet of a rule originally in 3e's Unearthed Arcana, where you convert the spellcaster's passive DC into an attack roll, and then convert the target's saving throw roll into a passive Defense.

In 3e, this was done as part of the "Players roll all the dice" rule. Here, it's supposed to be done so that the spellcaster's player is "more proactive" in casting their spells, as well as dovetailing with the Spell Criticals and Spell Fumbles rules by having the caster roll 20s for the former and 1s for the latter.

The conversion to this system is:


Spell Attack Roll: [d20 + spell level + spellcasting ability modifier], or basically the same modifiers that you add onto the base DC of 10
Spell Defense: DC [11 + the target's regular saving throw bonus]

Let's dig into the math of this. Assume a level 1 Wizard with 18 Intelligence casts Sleep against a level 1 Fighter with 12 Wisdom

Under normal rules, the Sleep has a DC of [15 = 10 + 1 spell level + 4 Int mod], while the Fighter has a saving throw of [d20 + 2 base bonus + 1 Wis mod]

If we plug [d20+3] into anydice ...

... we find that the Fighter has a 45% chance of rolling a 15 or higher, and thus a 45% chance of not falling asleep.

Let's then convert this to the Spell Attack Roll system.
The Wizard would have a spell attack roll of [d20 + 1 spell level + 4 Int mod]
The Fighter would have a spell defense of DC [14 = 11 + 2 base bonus + 1 Wis mod]

If we plug [d20+5] into anydice ...

... we find that the Wizard has a 60% chance of rolling a 14 or higher, and thus the Fighter has a 40% chance of not falling asleep.

The conversion into a spell defense actually has to be 12 + modifiers in order to make it completely equivalent, or else the defender is losing 5% from their original stats.

What I find irksome is that this same mistake gets repeated over and over and over!
Unearthed Arcana (2004):

True20's Warrior's Handbook (2008):

Pathfinder Unchained (2015):

and nobody in those 11 years ever bothered to check the math, or perhaps to listen to the people who realized the mistake. And Paizo even ups the ante by including an example, but still gets the math wrong there anyway!

To tell you the truth, I actually like this rule - it appeals to a certain sense of consistency to always have the attacker rolling, and to always have a passive target number for the defender. But the sheer laziness of the editing/proofreading is bothersome.

Esoteric Material Components

posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

Esoteric Material Components

This is a fairly simple rule on its surface: whenever a character casts a spell, they have to pay a certain amount of money, as referenced against the chart below, as the abstraction of buying and consuming material components for spells.


A Wizard 8 wants to cast Fireball. It would cost them 24 GP to do so.

There's a couple of frills you can add onto this system:

If you're playing with the Limited Magic rules, you can have the player pay for material components in exchange for letting them cast at the normal caster level rather than with the bare minimum.

Players can deliberately reduce their caster level for spells (down to the minimum needed) in order to make spells cheaper to cast.


A Wizard 8 wants to cast Fireball. They can choose to cast the Caster Level 5 version instead. It would only cost 15 GP instead of 24 GP, but it would also only deal 5d6 damage instead of 8d6 damage

There are four specific kinds of components illustrated in the book. Each of them covers spells from two different schools. You can have players buy them (measured in equivalent gold amounts) and then expend them separately. If the player doesn't have the correct component, then they can use twice as much of another component. They can also use twice as much of a component to activate a particular additional effect.

* Entropic Resin is used for evocation and necromancy spells. The additional effect is to allow you to treat your caster level as 1 higher for the purpose of calculating damage dice, even beyond the normal maximum
* Prismatic Sand is ued for conjuration and illusion spells. The additional effect is to allow you to treat your caster level as 4 higher for determining the spell's range, or allow you to modify the area/spread/radius of a spell by 5 feet larger or smaller
* Geodes are used for abjuration and transmutation spells. The additional effect is to allow you treat your caster level as 2 higher for determining the spell's duration
* Verdant Salts are used for divination and enchantment spells. The additional effect is to allow you increase the save DC for the spell by 1.

A Wizard 8 goes shopping in town before leaving for their adventure. They buy 300 GP worth on Entropic Resin, 150 GP worth of Prismatic Sand, 200 GP worth of Geodes, and 100 GP worth of Verdant Salts


They cast a Fireball, and consume 24 GP worth of Entropic Resin to do so. They now have 276 GP worth of Entropic Resin left.


While fighting a particularly powerful enemy, the Wizard decides to spend twice the amount of Entropic Resin to increase the power of their Fireball. They spend 48 GP worth of Entropic Resin, and their Fireball deals 9d6 damage instead of 8d6. From 276 GP worth of Entropic Resin, they now only have 228 GP left.

(if they were a Wizard 10, casting a Fireball at caster level 10 would cost 30 GP. If they tapped the additional effect of Entropic Resin, it would cost 60 GP, and the Fireball would deal 11d6 damage, even if Fireballs are normally capped at 10d6 damage)


After lots of fighting, they've used up all of their Entropic Resin, but they still want to cast a Fireball. They can choose to spend 48 GP worth of any of the other material components to force the issue.

There's a fifth material component, called Yliaster, that can be used to let you completely uncap a spell's damage dice, AND let you treat yourself as 2 caster levels higher, AND increase the save DC by 1, but the cost is supposed to be exorbitant: 200 GP for every 1 caster level, so casting a Fireball as a Wizard 5 would cost 1,000 GP.


If a Wizard 12 wanted to cast Fireball with Yliaster, it would cost them 2,400 GP, but the Fireball would deal 14d6 damage: first, the damage is uncapped, so it can scale up to 12d6 instead of the normal limit of 10d6, and then it goes up another 2 caster levels beyond that to 14d6.

It's difficult to judge how well this rule would actually end up working in practice, since a lot of it hinges upon how much loot the party gets and how much that loot respects the wealth-by-level rules, but it seems like a decent way of putting some kind of opportunity cost to spells without the complete hand-waving done by default PF, but also without delving into the fiddly BS of TSR-era D&D. By assigning a generic cost per level of spell, there's a workable framework here. I'd certainly be open to trying it, and the ability to spend extra on your spells doesn't make this a purely punitive rules change.

Automatic Bonus Progression

posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

Automatic Bonus Progression

D&D 3e, and by extension Pathfinder, has a certain "gear treadmill" of bonuses that you're supposed to get from magic items in order to scale properly with how the monsters/NPCs develop. In no particular order, these are:

- a resistance bonus to saving throws, starting at +1 and capping out at +5
- an enhancement bonus to weapons, starting at +1 and capping out at +5*
- an enhancement bonus to armor, starting at +1 and capping out at +5*
- a deflection bonus to AC, starting at +1 and capping out at +5
- a natural bonus to AC, starting at +1 and capping out at +5
- enhancement bonuses to ability scores, which is generally goes as high as +6 to +12 to a single stat, and then smaller amounts to every other stat

* weapon and armor enhancement bonuses go up to +10, but half of that is "spent" on special item abilities, and only the actual numerical amount is limited to +5

These "Big Six" items were critical to running the game "as intended", and the cost of the acquiring them was tightly tuned against the expected "wealth-by-level" of characters, and by extension the rates of randomly dropped loot, but because it was never (to my knowledge) explicitly revealed that things were supposed to work this way, there was no shortage of people who ran games with a "low magic" setting where they weren't all available, and then the game became janky at higher levels as a result. And that's to say nothing of people who deliberately held back their players from acquiring such items because they thought it would make them "too powerful" or whatnot.

No discussion of an item treadmill would be complete without making mention that D&D 4th Edition also used a similar model, but in that case, later books would introduce an "Inherent Bonuses" system that would award these numerical bonuses at certain character levels. They would let you DMs "low magic" campaigns (especially within the Dark Sun setting) where the players didn't need to have so many magical items in the narrative, and even in regular games DMs could still use it so that they couldn't "go wrong" with how they were awarding loot.

And so we get to Pathfinder Unchained, and these Automatic Bonus Progression rules are intended to do the same thing: simply let the players earn their Big Six bonuses without having to derive them from items.

As you can see, all the Big Six bonuses are here:

- resistance +1 at level 3, getting to +5 by level 14
- enhancement bonus +1 to weapons at level 4, getting to +5 by level 17
- enhancement bonus +1 to armor at level 4, getting to +5 by level 17
- deflection +1 at level 5, getting to +5 by level 18
- toughening (natural armor) +1 at level 8, getting to +5 by level 18
- mental ability score bonus at level 6, and physical ability score bonus at level 7

The table extends through to level 22*, but starting at level 19 and higher, players instead earn "Legendary Gifts" which allow them some customization on getting additional enhancement bonuses on their weapons and armor, or for more ability score bonuses, or for a +5 shield, and so on.

This rule has its heart in the right place, but the devil is in the details. The main issue is that the order of the bonuses tends to be rather biased towards spellcasters (see mental stats getting boosted first), and also because the rules suggest cutting the wealth-by-level of players in half to account for all the bonuses that they're getting "for free".

As a martial class, not only would you be getting your bonuses later than the spellcasters do, but the reduction in wealth means that you're a lot more constrained in customizing yourself for the items that you do need. There's a sidebar that eliminates the extra cost of paying for the enhancement bonus prerequisites for item abilities (so that you don't need to "pay" for a +1 sword to attach the Flaming property to, if you already have a +1 sword as an inherent bonus), but that still means having to make some compromises.

If you're playing with "old hands" at Pathfinder that know their way around the system, it's almost always better to run the game as-is, ensure that they're getting the proper wealth-by-level (or more), and simply let them but the items that they need.

If you/your players aren't that into the game, or you don't want to dive into shopping lists, or you as the DM want to have a "back-up" in case you mess up the wealth-by-level / loot drops, it can be useful to still use these rules, but with an eye towards maintaining normal wealth-by-level anyway, and/or perhaps rejiggering the order of bonuses to be more accommodating to players.

I personally use my own version of Inherent Bonuses as I have, and continue, to run games of 3e, and while Unchained's implementation is flawed, the effort into making these explicit and codified is appreciated.

* in games where you don't want the players to have magical items at all, you're supposed to treat everyone as being two levels higher (i.e. they get resistance +1 at character level 1), which is why the table is extended up to level "22"

Innate Item Bonuses

posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Pathfinder Unchained

Innate Item Bonuses

This is very similar to Automatic Bonus Progression: you can no longer buy items with the basic enhancement bonus numbers, but instead any item that's expensive enough to be the equivalent of having an enhancement bonus, will automatically have it.

So for example, you'd buy some Light Fortification armor, and it would automatically also be a +1 armor.

You'd buy a Courageous longsword, and it would automatically also be a +1 longsword. If you bought a Vorpal longsword, it would also be a +5 longsword.

You'd buy a Circlet of Persuasion, and because it's worth more than 4,000 GP, it would also grant you a +2 bonus to a stat of your choice. If you bought a Helm of Brilliance it would also grant you a +6 bonus to two stats, or +6 to one and +4 to other stats because it's worth 125,000 GP.

You'd buy a Periapt of Proof Against Poison, and because it's worth more than 18,000 HP, it would also grant you a +3 natural armor bonus to AC.

You'd buy Wings of Flying, and because it's worth more than 25,000 GP, it would also grant you a +5 resistance bonus to all saving throws.

You'd buy a Ring of Animal Friendship, and because it's worth more than 8,000 GP, it would also grant you a +2 deflection bonus to AC.

This seems to be address some of the issues of the Automatic Bonus Progression rules in that players can get to choose the order in which they access the inherent bonuses that they want, and it doesn't mandate a reduction in wealth-by-level, but it's still not a "perfect" solution because this rules includes a proportional increase in item costs such that everything is more expensive anyway. It's an improvement, and would be preferable for people who are interested enough in the game to pick through item lists even if they're not savvy enough to "optimize" their item selections.