I’m not often a fan of new rules and options. Often, I find, they just lead to rules bloat, option paralysis and slower game play. Thus, I wasn’t expecting much from Pathfinder Unchained…
However, one of Raging Swan Press’s heroic freelancers—Julian Neale—suggested I grab a copy as there was some stuff in there I might like. On his recommendation, I picked up the book and I’m jolly glad I did! While I’m not going to use the whole book in my Borderland of Adventure campaign—at the moment we are mostly core rulebook only—there are certain things I can definitely see myself implementing.
Thus, in the order they appear in the book, here are the options I particularly like.
Staggered Advancement (Chapter 1)
Just the other day, one of my players was lamenting how unrealistic levelling up was in Pathfinder—in that you suddenly gain all these new skills and abilities just by reaching some arbitrary number of experience points.
Staggered advancement solves this problem by splitting the benefits of levelling into four tiers (or sub-levels). Under this system, characters see small incremental advancements in their abilities, which I really like. I think staggered advancement works particularly well with the slow advancement track (which I love and use in my main Borderland of Adventure campaign). It seems pretty pointless to use it with the fast advancement track, though.
The only downside of this system is that it requires just a bit more bookkeeping.
Background Skills (Chapter 2)
I love the concept of background skills. In Pathfinder, it often seems skill points are in short supply, particularly for fighters, clerics and anyone with low intelligence. Players face hard choices between optimising (as much as possible) their PC’s survivability and simulating their background skills, hobbies and interests.
Background skills provide 2 extra skill points to spend on a short list of skills—think Craft, Profession and suchlike—that can simulate the PCs’ background skill hobby or interest. I think this is a neat touch and, of course, inventive players can always find ways to make their background skills useful during their adventures. At the very least, they promote roleplaying and characterisation which can only be a good thing.
Wound Thresholds (Chapter 3)
I love the concept of wound thresholds to inject a little bit more realism and drama into combat. For years, we’ve been using Alea Tokens to show how badly wounded people are in combat, and by chance the wound threshold rules mirror the percentages—25%, 50%, 75% and 100%—exactly. Basically, at each threshold, the injured characters suffers a -1 penalty to all attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks as well as AC and caster level.
Given we’ve already been using this basic concept (without the penalties) and I don’t think this would be very hard to implement at all.
Scaling Magic Items (Chapter 4)
I love the concept of an item that grows in power along with the hero that wields it. In particular, if a PC possesses a family heirloom such as a battleaxe it makes sense for the item to have scaleable abilities. If it doesn’t the PC quickly outgrows it and is literally forced by circumstance—and the increasing power of his enemies—to use another item instead.
I’ve already used scaling items in my campaign—sort of. While I didn’t mirror the mechanical aspects Paizo provide in Pathfinder Unchained I have used a similar concept for special items. The PCs normally found these items early on in their career and initially they seemed to be nothing more than (say) a +1 longspear or cloak of resistance +1. However, these were intelligent items and as play progressed—and the owner proved himself worthy—the item chose to reveal additional powers, and in the process marked itself as something special. PCs love wielding unique, special items and I can’t wait to use scaling items in my campaign.
The only downside I can see with the system is that the maths behind the item’s value—and its impact on the amount of treasure the party recovers—seems a little torturous.
A Final Note
I deliberately haven’t touched on the new versions of the barbarian, monk, rogue and summoner in this article. While I like several elements of the classes’ redesigns—the barbarian’s simplified rage, the greater flavour of the summoner and so on—I don’t yet know enough about how these new class versions would fare in actual play to have a defined option.
Do you like Pathfinder Unchained? What’s your favourite bit from the book? Let me know in the comments below—perhaps I missed something!