Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review: Advanced Class Guide Playtest

"I'm surprised by how much I enjoy these new classes. Each appears to balance roleplaying and combat effectiveness and is unique enough to inspire ideas for characters I'd love to see on the table."

This week, Paizo released a playtest version of their upcoming Advanced Class Guide. The playtest includes 20-level write-ups for 10 new classes, each a merger of two current classes. You can download your copy of the playtest here.

The classes include:

Arcanist: Sorcerer and Wizard
Bloodrager: Barbarian and Sorcerer
Brawler: Fighter and Monk
Hunter: Druid and Ranger
Investigator: Alchemist and Rogue
Shaman: Oracle and Witch
Skald: Barbarian and Bard
Slayer: Ranger and Rogue
Swashbuckler: Fighter and Gunslinger
Warpriest: Cleric and Fighter

The Basics

Arcanist: The arcanist is an interesting blend of wizard and sorcerer. At first I wondered why you'd want to blend similar arcane classes, but the end result is fascinating. The arcanist can learn any number of wizard/sorcerer spells and must prepare them at the beginning of the day like a wizard. However, they may cast the spells they prepare spontaneously, like a sorcerer. This means you can memorize combat spells like mage armor and magic missile along with non-combat spells like disguise self without worrying about wasting spell slots for the day if you don't end up needing to sneak past a guard. The arcanist also has limited access to both specialized spell school abilities and bloodline powers. The arcanist's spellcasting is something I've wanted to see in the game for decades. The limited spell choices of the sorcerer make them far too specialized, while the wizard's need to choose specific spells before knowing what the day held reduced their effectiveness.

Bloodrager: The bloodrager is a combination of barbarian and sorcerer, allowing the bloodrager to spontaneously cast spells during their rage. I've seen several attempts at barbarian/sorcerers on the table and they all suffered from the arcane dilution problem suffered by other multiclasses. Bloodragers solve this problem by giving them access to spells only when they are raging, and limiting those spells significantly. Bloodragers draw their spells from the magus list, giving them access to largely combat related magic. They also choose a bloodline, similar to sorcerers, but the bonus spells and abilities are specialized to the bloodrager class.

Brawler: Many 3PP have tried to create a martial artist that doesn't draw on mystical powers; the brawler is Paizo's official answer. A combination of fighter and monk, the brawler gains improved unarmed damage and uses a mechanic that grants them access to nearly every martial-arts-related feat. As a move action, brawlers gains any one feat that improves their defense (dodge, mobility), melee attacks (blind-fight, cleave), or performing/resisting combat maneuvers (improved trip, improved grab). Brawlers gain access to the feat for 1 minute or until they use this ability again. They must have the prereqs for the feat, but at higher levels they gain access to two or three feats at once and these feats may act as prereqs for each other. That means that a 6th or 10th level brawler can use martial style trees like Scorpion Strike one combat and a different style in another.

Hunter: The hunter is my favorite of the merged classes, creating a ranger with stronger links to animal companions, more spells, and an extremely limited form of druidic shifting called animal focus. In place of a ranger's combat training, the hunter gains bonus teamwork feats that are automatically gained by their animal companion. They also benefit from a mechanic similar to the brawler in that they can spend a move action to change the last teamwork feat they learned. The animal focus ability grants them bonuses to stats or skills based on the animal they are channeling and at higher levels they can channel more than one animal at a time.

Investigator: The investigator is an intriguing blend of rogue and alchemist; though their inspiration ability gives the class a distinctly bardic flavor appropriate to the build. The investigator can use alchemical formulae, sneak attacks and trapfinding/trapsense abilities, as well as a new class feature called inspiration, which allows them to add a d6 to any roll--knowledge, ability, or combat related, though attack rolls and saves require 2 daily uses.

Shaman: At first glance, the shaman class was my least favorite. I'm a shaman fan and am always on the lookout for new ways to play them in games*. This version combines aspects of the oracle and witch, granting them access to clerical divine spells and hexes. The class uses a twist on the wizard's-familiar mechanic to represent the shaman's power animal, and their totems are chosen from a list of spirits like battle, bones, fire, nature, etc. The totem the shaman chooses at 1st level is their permanent totem, while at 6th level they gain the wandering spirit ability that allows them to choose a second totem from the list once a day. I'm not a fan of the witch-hex mechanic, so wasn't impressed by the merger of these two classes at first, but the shaman does manage a straightforward, streamlined version of the class that looks effective while still granting the feel of a spirit envoy.

Skald: The skald is a classic combination of bard and barbarian, inspiring allies with rage-inducing songs. The combination is one of the smoother blends, substituting some of the bard's skill points and range of bardic performance powers for more weapon proficiencies, a song that grants allies a limited form of the rage ability, and the unique ability to imitate spells from other class lists by expending multiple slots.

Slayer: A classic bounty hunter combination of ranger and rogue. The slayer has access to limited sneak attacks and substitutes a favored target ability for the ranger's favored enemy/terrain powers. The favored target grants +1 to Bluff, Knowledge, Perception, Sense Motive and Survival checks as well as to attack and damage rolls to any single target the slayer spends a move action to study. At 7th level, the bonuses apply to Disguise, Intimidate, and Stealth checks as well. Though less effective than the ranger's favored enemy, the versatility, combined with the rogue's sneak attack, makes the slayer effective while sill feeling different than either class alone. Slayers also gain access to talents that duplicate some rogue and ranger abilities, while providing unique choices like grit and firearms proficiency.

Swashbuckler: Oh, how many of these classes have we seen over the years and how many fall short of the fascinating potential of a true swashbuckler? I expected the class to fall back on the rogue and fighter, but was pleasantly surprised to see that it instead combined fighters and gunslingers. Instead of grit, the swashbuckler has an ability called pinache, granting points that can be spent for deeds like daring-do, riposte, and targeted strike. The swashbuckler also gains limited access to the fighter's bravery feature and combat prowess with light and one-handed piercing weapons, including improved critical ranges and bonus to hit and damage.

Warpriest: The final class puts the cleric on the front line by combining it with the fighter. Instead of domains, the warpriest has access to blessings, which are specific powers tied to the same domain categories as clerics. Each blessing grants a power at 1st and 10th but does not grant bonus spells. For example, the blessings tied to the Weather domain grant electrical bonus damage to a weapon at 1st level, and surrounds the warpriest with a windwall that provides feather fall at 10th. Warpriests have access to cleric spells up to 6th level only, but gain access to martial weapons, limited access to channel energy, and the ability to enhance their armor and their deity's chosen weapon with magical power. Bonus combat feats round out the class.

Final Verdict

I'm surprised by how much I enjoy these new classes. Each appears to balance roleplaying and combat effectiveness and is unique enough to inspire ideas for characters I'd love to see on the table. I'm particularly impressed by the brawler, hunter, and swashbuckler classes, each of which have been attempted in other supplements, but are handled very well here and will be my go-to for these character types in my campaigns. As with all new class options, we'll have to see how they play out on the table, but I could see a fun and effective Pathfinder campaign using only these 10 characters, and that's an impressive feat.


* = My favorite being the out-of-print Shaman's Handbook, from Green Ronin. Also, keep an eye out next year for Ultimate Witch and Ultimate Shaman from Christina Stiles Presents.

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