Pathfinder Unchained released a bunch of houserules some welcome some not so welcome.  Many of these rules are huge systems that can change how the game plays in many different ways.

Not all hosuerules have to be like this.  So in this post we’ll be going over some relatively simple ones that incentivize new strategies and open up parts of the combat system largely ignored.

The idea behind this is to provide the biggest and most intriguing impacts on the tactics and thought process of players without changing many things about the rules.  Adding new elements and variables into combat in such a way as to shake things up without a whole lot of rules juggling on the part of the GM.

1. Untrained Combat Maneuvers do not provoke AoO’s.

Normal: Combat maneuvers provoke an AoO unless you have the Improved feat that allows you to do it without provoking.

The Impact: There are two big reasons why combat maneuvers are never used.  First, Combat Maneuver Defense tends to be prohibitively high. Second, they’re basically a feat tax to use at all.

This house rule eliminates the second problem.  Combat maneuvers, and your ability to do them well, becomes a function of BAB rather than feats.  Feats, instead, become about specialization and focus on one set of capabilities your cahracter already has rather than specializing in a focus your character should already be able to do.

This allows combat to become more interesting.  Full BAB characters become much more threatening as their combat options increase dramatically with a simple lifting of limitations.  CMD becomes a very important stat for 3/4 BAB characters to keep high since they’re not safe anymore from getting combat maneuvered to death. Ultimately this is a buff to martial characters in general and potentially gives much needed variety to a fairly straight forward combat system.

Variations: Obviously with this house rule the Improved feats for combat maneuvers lose some of their use so rolling them into their greater versions is certainly an option.  Alternatively you can include them under feats like Power Attack and Combat Expertise to subsequently increase the value of those feats and create a bit of build versatility.

2. When a character is dropped below 0 hitpoints there is a 50% chance they remain conscious but with the disabled condition. Every time a disabled character loses hp in anyway there is a 50% chance they fall unconscious until brought above 0 hit points again.

Normal: When you drop below 0 hitpoints you go unconscious.

The Impact: The thing about biology is that it can be rather funny about what kills you immediately and what kills you slightly after.  A person stabbed right in the head might keep going for a tiny bit before dropping dead.  A man impaled on a spear isn’t always going to go into shock.  This rule emulates that a bit.

This helps eliminate the problem of players and enemies dropping immediately after focused fire without having to give them Diehard and allows combat to build a bit of tension as players and enemies can be granted a potentially broader window in which to remain acting.  It’s not perfect or even something to rely on so Diehard and other such effects are still useful and it makes constitution an even more important score since it can grant a potentially larger action window for characters.

It’s also a clear indicator when an enemy is  horribly injured but not dead yet giving some potentially good roleplaying opportunities not always possible for mere piles of corpses.

Variations: I’d allow endurance to increase the chance to 75% in order to segue much more naturally into Diehard.  Beyond that theirs not much you can do to change it.

3. When you miss an opponent with an attack by more than 5 + your Dex and Wis modifier you provoke an attack of opportunity from that opponent. This attack of opportunity cannot provoke an attack of opportunity in turn if it misses in the same way.

Normal: When you miss you miss. Even when you critically miss.

The Impact: This sadly punishes characters with low attack.  But rewards characters with high defense.  Combat Reflexes becomes incredibly powerful and a staple for defensive characters. Defensive abilities in general become quite useful.  Full attacks in general become less powerful and more thoughtful as simply rolling dice at something until it dies can end badly against a high dexterity character.

Ultimately this adds a “counter” element to the game.  If a character over extends or gets caught up on a shield they open themselves up to damage.  Accuracy becomes a defensive necessity, defense becomes an offensive boon. It opens up a lot of builds and makes many builds much more viable.  You can call it a slight debuff to feats like power attack and what not but ultimately those feats are still valuable as high defenses are not necessarily universal and high damage is still a reward for good accuracy.

You can call the stat this rule generates Combat Sense.

Variations: This is my favorite house rule made for this blog and definitely something worth building off of and exploring.  So, I encourage you to do so.  Try different scores for different classes for combat sense.  Maybe have some classes go off of three or four scores or some combat weak classes go off of only one. Perhaps have some classes have additional effects should they trigger or have triggered a counter.

4.  Flanking, higher ground, and charging allow you to roll twice on your attack and take the highest roll in addition to normal bonuses.

Normal: When flanking, on higher ground, or charging you typically only get a numerical bonus to the action they are doing.

The Impact: Generally speaking while most players understand the disadvantages of a flank this rule enforces the idea that having poor positioning is awful.  It also gives quite a bit of power to characters that rely on charges or flanks to set up their offense.  It’s a massive offensive boost to the game in general that gives a strong incentive to go for those positional advantages.  Simultaneously it requires your players to take better care of their positioning as enemies can get those advantages as well.

Variations: This rule is lifted straight from 5th ed. where pounces are rare to impossible for players to get.  However, in pathfinder the ability to move and full attack is getting increasingly common.  This rule would make rocket tag happen at an earlier level.  The solution is to simply not allow the rule to trigger with full attacks on a charge.

5.  CMD adds either Dex or Str modifier (whichever is highest) not both.

Normal: CMD adds your Dex mod + Str mod + BAB +10.

The Impact: The trouble with the math between CMD and CMB is that CMB favors only one stat and BAB while CMD favors Strength, Dex and BAB.  Ultimately that means as creatures get bigger, less humanoid, and have massive stats and hit dice CMD gets into ludicrous ranges while CMB suffers a lot.

By dropping the CMD at least a bit we see more combat maneuvers getting used and thus grant a bit more variety to the possibilities by both enemies and players.

Variations: In addition to this you can also include the feat tax elimination rules one helpful blogger put together.  This, along with the earlier house rule can make a huge impact on how combat maneuvers can affect the game with remarkably little real effort.


Trying an experiment with videos rather than my normal format.  Easier to do and lets me get more information out readily.  Won’t work as well with concepts heavy in flat out math but for things like this it’s easier to get a lot of info out quicker and saves me the savagery of publishing a post and finding grammar and spelling errors later.

In the meantime let me know what you think!

I do- know the sound is off so I’ll probably get into recording it separately through Audacity or some such.

Video  —  Posted: December 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

Little things count.

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the big vague concepts such as DPR, tactics, optimization, cahracter concept, or something so big and important like party make up.  Does our group of two oracles, a paladin, and a bard have enough skills to spread our capabilities well?  Does my cleric benefit the group more as offensive support or as a defensive anchor?

But what about the little things?

Such as encouraging every spellcaster in the group to have a healing type spell to spare charges off the wnad at the end of the day or to take pressure off the support casters after every fight.  Or, keeping one damaging spell on hand in case an enemy really needs to die right now and they have taken so much damage that it can’t be that far off.

Or, rather than stopping at the very first square that comes to mind to make an attack consider if the next square over will give your allies more space to work with, more ways to flank, more avenues to get shots in or to make it easier to lay down spells on you or your target.

The truth about the little things is that they stack up and it all begins with two questions.

What do I have in excess and how can I use that to benefit the group?

Let’s say for example you have all the spells known of a certain level you want.  But as more spells pile on to that list you are left wondering what to do with them.  Do you let them go to waste?  Do you pick a spell that sounded neat?  Grab a situational spell?

I think the best answer is to look at your group as a whole and decide for yourself what works best with them.  Is one caster doing the majority of healing?  Maybe a healing spell will help lighten their burden.  Is a monk struggling with their AC?  Maybe just having mage armor where you don’t require it will help.  Have loads of extracts you never use and an extra talent?  Grab the infusions talent and pass them around.

Too much gold?  See if someone has a dream item they are just shy of.  Maybe throw the money into another healing wand for the group as a whole.

The ultimate benefit to all of this is that as the group takes on each other’s burdens they become lifted as a whole.  The caster that is less worried about healing can focus on buff and support spells for the party.  The monk wiht the higher ac gets hit less saving resources and making them more effective.  The dream item at the pc’s command increases how dangerous they are in combat overall. With everyone having access to excess infusions they can save group action economy and spend quiet rounds in combat utilizing those infusions to great effect.

It doesn’t cost much.  A spell known here, a spare talent their, some extra gold that would otherwise sit still on the sheet until your next big purchase.  Before you know it these little bits of teamwork really add up.

1. Bring a friend. Preferably, bring at least two friends. Bring all of your friends if you can.

2. Anything worth attacking is worth attacking until dead. Attack rolls are free – life is expensive.

3. Only hits count. The only thing worse than a miss is a slow miss.

4. If your positioning is good, the gamemaster is being nice.

5. Archery is your friend. Use it liberally.

6. If you can choose what to bring to a fight, bring a a support caster, a control caster, reach weapons, and bows for everyone.

7. Games progress poorly with dead characters.

8. If you are not attacking, you should be communicating, moving, and supporting your group.

9.  Accuracy and damage are relative: huge damage means nothing without good accuracy.  Good accuracy is only as meaningful as the damage you deal.

10. Someday someone may kill you with your own party members, but they should have to make it happen with a roll of a 1 after you’ve spent all your spells, broken all your weapons, and left a bloody mess of the enemy.

11. Always play dirty, always win. The only unfair fight is the one you lose.

12. Have a plan.

13. Have a back-up plan, because the first one won’t work.

14. Use cover or concealment as much as possible.

15. Flank your adversary when possible. Protect yours.

16. Don’t drop your guard.

17. Always buff before a fight.

18. Watch their hands. Hands kill. (In God we trust. Everyone else, keep your hands where I can see them.)

19. Decide to be aggressive ENOUGH, quickly ENOUGH.

20. The faster you finish the fight, the less damaged you will get.

21. Be polite. Be professional. But, have a plan to kill everyone you meet.

22. Be courteous to everyone, friendly to no one.

23. Your number one option for personal security is a lifelong commitment to avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation.

For all the talk about the ability for one class or another to crush a game master’s plans every gamer from the newest player to the most ancient of Gygaxian disciples understand that they are ultimately at the mercy of the dice.  For all the bluster about good role playing and optimization it all too often comes down to blind stupid luck in determining whether or not we succeed or fail.

This is why much of optimization is, at its core, all about altering chances to favor the character. Or rather it’s about eliminating risk and maximizing reward. Whether it’s forcing a failed save by the enemy with high DC’s or a high, consistent critical range to ensure that you critically hit often many choices are made to make these opportunities happen as often as possible.

Tactics are no different.  Actions, positioning, and numbers shift and flow altering percentages either for or against the group.  Tactics is all about controlling this chaotic movement so that it allows the odds to always favor the group.

In this section we’ll discuss the two kinds of risks a group must face in every combat and how they affect the actions a character will use.

Hard Risks

Hard Risks are the easiest for any player to determine as they are based entirely on raw math.

The first thing any player should know about hard risks is what is sometimes called the 5% rule.

The 5% rule comes from the idea that on nearly every check made by a character using a 20 sided die there is always a 5% chance the die will come up as 20 and thus auto succeed or come up as 1 and thus automatically fail regardless of whatever bonus is behind the die roll.  Basically, a critical hit or critical miss respectively.

This rule is what explains how a CR20 dragon can still be genuinely afraid of a large human army mostly composed of level 1 to level 3 warriors.  They do not necessarily have to be skilled with their ballista shots, bolts coated in magic weapon oil, or alchemical frost weapons, all they have to be is lucky.

So, keeping this in mind any calculation of a percentage on a d20 will never get higher than 95% nor lower than 5% since the extreme ends of the spectrum are automatic successes or failures.

One method (that is less likely to require a calculator for expediency) is to subtract the bonus from the target number and multiply the result by 5.  The number given represents a percentage chance to fail the roll.  You can subtract this number from 100 to get the chance to succeed.

If this sounds complicated don’t worry too much. Often times just knowing you need a number above 10 or 12 is more than enough to tell you that the chances are not in your favor for the action to succeed.  The only tricky part is finding out the target numbers.  Game masters aren’t exactly going to tell you what those numbers are. That’s metagaming.  However, simple observation of rolls, bonuses, and whether they succeed or not can give you a fair guess.  Often if you at least work at it a GM won’t get upset simply because you knowing the number does speed the game up.

Let’s take an example and put some of this together, let’s say a paladin is flanking with a ranger and trying to debate whether or not he should use his smite evil ability on a particular foe.  The ranger takes his full attack of three attacks each with a bonus of +15 on the first two attacks and a +10 on the last attack.  The ranger rolls a 24, a 27 and a 21.  The 21 and 24 both miss the targets AC but the 27 hits.  The paladin has a base modifier of +17 on his attacks.  Knowing that the targets AC is at least 25 and no more than 27 he needs at least an 8 to have any hope of hitting the creature or anywhere between a 60% to 50% chance.  Deciding that the extra +3 bonus he can get from his ability is worth it he activates smite evil to grant him a 75% to 65% chance of hitting the target.  Much better odds and buffs from other party members can be added to the attack bonus to make it easier to hit the monster.

As another example of decision making based on hard risks a wizard has to defend himself from an incoming orc brandishing a mean falchion with his name on it.  With a base 18 AC thanks to mage armor and a great dex modifier the orc’s +5 attack bonus only has a 35% chance (a 13 on the roll or better) of hitting him.  However he already knows that the orc will charge granting him another +2 bonus on the attack raising his chances to 45%.  Given his low hit points the orc has a fair chance of dropping him immediately if the orc rolls high or crits.  The wizard could cast shield granting him an additional +4 AC and lowering the chances of getting hit to 25% from a charge.  Those are good odds.  However the wizard also has the sleep spell which the orc only has a 20% chance of success against.  At this point the only real difference is a question of reward, which we will get into later.

Soft Risks

Soft risks are chances taken based upon enemy psychology and habits and have more to do with the likelihood an action is going to take place rather than whether or not an action will succeed.  These are far more difficult to quantify and much of it relies entirely upon game master habits. This is, yes, metagaming. It’s unavoidable as you are not determining what exactly the orc is going to do but rather you are actually determining the game master’s interpretation of what the orc would do.

That’s important.  Because even if you are running the same module, adventure path, or pathfinder society scenario, each gamemaster will run it in slightly different and often significant ways that run counter to your expectations.  So, pay attention, consider how the monster may act under your game master.

Ultimately, what it will come down to is experience and a good idea of what you’re doing versus what the enemy is going to react to.  Assume the worst, assume the enemy is smarter than they are, and you’ll do fine.

Let’s go back to our above to our wizard example.  The worst case scenario for the wizard is that the orc will charge him.  However the orc could also decide to instead chuck a javelin at him or perhaps run off and flank with a companion against the groups fighter.  The last option may be even worse than the wizard simply getting charged.  If the fighter is dropped by a lucky crit the wizard may suddenly go from facing one orc in melee to two or even three. This decision, at once simplified by mathematics, is made more difficult by enemy psychology. Sure, the orc may see a paper thin object with finite hit points to massacre.  Or, it could rightly see an object to fear and may choose to engage another enemy to free up comrades to face your threat.  Just as likely the game master has chosen to run his orcs as mostly cowards who only face opponents when they outnumber the group a good two to one and thus may decide to flee altogether.

A Factor of Reward

So far we’ve discussed the concept of risk in terms of enemy psychology and hard game mathematics.  We’ve looked over how we discover chances of success and how they pertain into our decision making process.  However one factor we have yet to cover is what success actually gives us.

You see it’s easy to think that simply having a high percentage chance of success is all that’s required to make a decision.  But, we also have to factor in the actual rewards for such a decision.  What we have to look at is whether or not the outcome fits our goal for the combat.

From a group standpoint this means defeating the encounter while spending as few resources as possible.  Individually speaking this means fulfilling your role in the group while maintaining your ability to continue doing so.

If we go back to our wizard example above we discussed the mathematics and various actions the orc can take leaving us with two possible decisions on our wizards part.  Casting shield means a guaranteed outcome that gives the orc little chance of actually harming the wizard.  However casting sleep gives us a good chance of dropping the orc out of the combat completely.  The reward for shield is a heightened AC at the risk of the orc taking another action to make the casting of the spell all but meaningless. The risk of sleep is the chance the orc will make their save and leave the orc more or less open to do as they please.

What the wizard chooses to do is simply a choice of deciding whether or not the risk of either action is worth the reward and deciding whether or not that reward corresponds to their goals. In this case the wizard, whose role it is to control the enemy would find that casting shield would do nothing to control the enemy and does not function to make the encounter go any faster.  Casting sleep would not only potentially being the encounter closer to an end but also fulfill the wizard’s role in the group of ensuring the enemy remains controlled.  In the end, the wizard casts sleep.

Opportunity Cost

Posted: March 15, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

In the last section we discussed the use and importance of actions in combat.  In this part we will focus on and discuss the actual value of individual actions and how this knowledge benefits the group.

The value of any given action versus another action is referred to as opportunity cost.  Nearly all actions have an associated opportunity cost with them such as the inability to take a move action or standard action after performing a full attack action or the inability to use a swift action on the turn following the use of an immediate action.

Understanding what each action costs allows us to make informed decisions that make the most out of each characters turn.  Through this we get effective actions which can turn the tide of battle in our favor every time.

Three factors go into the value of an action; character build, character role, and group strategy.

Character Costs

The first determining factor in calculating an action’s opportunity cost is the character’s actual build.  That is, the combination of race, class, and feat choices that encompass everything a character can mechanically accomplish.

It’s impossible to entirely quantify what any individual costs can mean for characters.  The game is simply too big with too much variety even among heavily optimized characters.

However you can make some good guesses while creating and leveling a character to ensure that you do not run into the dilemma of having to debate between abilities that cost the same action or otherwise limit the amount of effective actions you can take.

Start by looking over the main features of the class, you usually get these within the first three levels and these continue to grow in efficiency and power over the course of the game.  These features tend to be ones that you want to use all the time and thus you need to consider their use in how they affect your overall strategy.

As a brief example consider the Magus’s arcane pool ability. As a swift action it allows you to spend a point to enhance your weapon with enhancement bonuses or weapon enhancements based on your level.  As a class expected to wade into melee with ¾ BAB and hit with their chosen weapon it’s obvious that this ability is an important tool in the growth of a character who uses this class. Looking at the level three ability, the Arcanas, it’s easy to see that very useful and important options for this ability like arcane accuracy, and hasted assault all devour a magus’s swift actions.

From this we can determine that taking a feat such as Arcane Strike, while seeming a natural fit for us, is actually a waste of a feat.  Since we will more often than not be spending swift actions activating various arcanas, arcane pool, and possibly even using it for other magus abilities it’s actually better for us to consider alternate means of improving our damage such as power attack, weapon specialization, empower spell, and other such feats.

As another example of opportunity cost considerations in the early levels consider the barbarian rage ability.  While being a free action that costs essentially nothing in and of itself the ability prevents you from taking certain actions.  Namely, it prevents spell casting, abilities that require concentration, and a number of skills.  Therefore, a barbarian will try to make minimal use of such abilities and focus instead on abilities that can be used in a rage.

Understanding interactions between a characters abilities helps us make good decisions with our actions.  Knowing the conflicts and synergies allows us to craft our turns into sensible actions.

Character Role

Forge strategy calls for each member of the group to take on one or more roles during combat.  These roles help shape our individual goals.  Anvils want to control the pace of the fight, hammers want to end the fight, and arms want to enable the other two so knowing our role and how our abilities play into that role is key to making sure we don’t make too many bad decisions over the course of a tough fight.

For many this will be easy. Barbarians, for example, have few abilities that allow them the luxury of being an anvil or an arm so they easily fit into the role of a hammer.  So, few decisions they make with their abilities in a fight will be bad ones as they all tend towards dealing damage or making it easier to deal damage.

However, forge strategy does not suggest concrete roles for every character.  Characters that switch roles depending on the changing situation often find that decisions can be difficult in part because for the variety of options they have available to them as well as the necessity of learning how to read a combat to determine what role you should be taking.  Fueling the Forge goes into depth about the phases of a combat and is suggested reading for any player whose character often takes multiple roles in a group.

Group Strategy

The final determining factor in finding out an actions value is the overall strategy a group employs in combat.  If a group is particularly savvy with the system an overall strategy can be easily found and worked with to ensure success.  If not then not only is it difficult to win encounters efficiently but it’s hard for individual characters to craft their abilities and their actions in a way that best synergizes within the group paradigm.

Take for consideration the popularity of such spells as haste, enlarge person, and, fog cloud. Most newer players who have done little more than read guides without understanding the context will believe that these spells are good ideas at all times, regardless of what the group wants to do.  Enlarge person is rarely useful in a group that employs lots of ranged tactics and summoned monsters to pin down and eliminate threats.  Likewise haste only provides a moderate to weak bonus to characters that rely heavily on mounted charges and spell casting.

Individual actions should do everything to not only provide an effect on the enemy or to support your allies but also to prevent them from losing out on potential actions caused by your own poorly thought out actions.  It’s important to take other party members into consideration whenever you take an action.  Can you move to allow an easier flank for an ally?  Can an ability you possess allow your party’s hammer to succeed against a tough opponent?  Is your positioning compromising another characters ability to do their job?  Such decisions can only come with experience and often honest discussions about each individual’s needs and expectations from the group.

Actions on the Field

The last thing to note regarding opportunity cost is that even considering in all three of the aforementioned factors not every combat will be so clean as to find a concrete value on every possible action.  Dice rolls, unknown variables, individual game master quirks, and other vague, random factors can dramatically alter the value of an action.  In the next article we’ll discuss risk assessment and how they alter the way we value actions.

Here’s the first Podcast.  I attempted to embed it for convenience but could not figure it out.

A brief rundown of 5 guides I feel are must reads for old and new players alike.

Forge of Combat

Nephril’s Extended Beginners Guide to Pathfinder

Brewer’s Guide to the Reach Cleric

Ashiel’s Guide to Adventure

GM’s Guide to Creating Challenging Encounters

Video  —  Posted: February 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

The stormwind fallacy states a very simple concept; that the quality of a players roleplaying has nothing to do with the optimization point of their character.

The idea behind the idea is that numbers on a sheet don’t have any more effect on how you play than your choice of beverage at the table.  That you can be a good roleplayer and have a well optimized character.

We’re not going to talk about this point.

What we want to talk about instead is not so much the numbers of your character but how he acts in combat which does have at least a bit to do with roleplaying.

It has everything to do with verisimilitude.  It’s believable that Bilbo Baggins, a man who spends most of his days reading, day dreaming and generally enjoying the wealth of his predecessors would be fairly intelligent and even clever but poorly suited to sword fighting or facing down dragons in a test of arms.    That same man would not be seen carefully spacing himself between opponents like a trained swordsman, or discussing the best ways to allow a small force of thirteen survive a siege by two other armies on a dwarven stronghold.

When we talk about actions in combat we’re talking about a thing that happens in game.  A thing that happens in-game is obviously a thing your character is doing.  Thus we can’t really separate tactics discussion from roleplaying in the same way we can talk about optimizing character builds.  The numbers on a sheet do not represent the quality of ones roleplay but how one acts within the confines of combat does.

In fact it tends to be one of the stickier arguments that come up when discussion turns to the idea of healing in-combat.  Why, when you have the ability, would you allow a friend and partner bleed on the ground and near the cusp of death?

That’s a pretty strong dramatic dilemma.  So strong that you only see it in nearly every war movie ever.  The cliche of a platoon going through a ruined city or forest when a sniper suddenly shoots the guy up front in the kneecap.  The rest of the platoon goes to cover and debate among themselves whether they should save their friend who’s in complete agony.  Going out means getting shot.  Staying in means your friend is dead.

The sensible answer is to never get in that situation.  Proper tactics can help this.  So, while a complete dumb character can be roleplayed not to care about tactics it’s very hard to make a playable character that would endanger there comrades to satisfy their thoughtlessness.

But, bad things happen.  Bad dice rolls, bad luck, or simply poor choices can lead to a similar scenario.  Some would argue that the in-character thing to do woud be to help.  But, that fails to account for the dissenting voices, the other side of the screaming guy trying to keep the rest of their comrades safe as they determine the way out of this without getting the rest of the platoon killed.

Both options are perfectly in-character responses to an emergency.  Both responses are natural.  The question is how does this play out tactically?

Well in the sniper scenario what tends to happen is that the sniper is removed from the equation either through the form of distraction or elimination.  The sniper is taken out of the equation entirely.  The comrade is extracted, the plot continues, and maybe we have one or two less cast members.

What does this scenario teaches us?  Well it teaches that in this scenario people in a life or death situation people too emotional to understand the situation tend not to last long at all.  It teaches that the thoughtful logical approach works.

But is that in-character for say, Greebo Gumfryer goblin master alchemist? He’s a manic sort, prone to fits of excitement and loyal to his friends.  Would he, when the fire giant knocks down his good barbarian buddy who let’s him pickle all the giant ears, risk life and limb beyond what’s necessary to save his friend?

Well, honestly, I don’t think any well rounded character will have a particularly “incorrect” response.  It all just comes down to motive.  He runs to heal his barbarian friend because he cares about his friends life. He hurls bombs of acid at the fire giant because he seeks vengeance. He flees because he’s terrified.  He continues to fight as normal because he’s too into battle to let emotions cloud his judgment.

All are valid responses to a tough tactical situation from a  roleplaying perspective. So why not pick the best tactical response by context?  The right decision doesn’t have to be an out of character one it simply has to be driven by the correct motive.

Then the question becomes if I don’t have the correct motive how do I justify my actions?  What if the person on the ground is a terrible rival whom I’ve been waiting to die?  Well, yes, actually.  Perhaps you want to be the one that kills him.  Maybe your rivalry won’t end simply because he dies.  Justification, and therefore motive, can be found in any situation.  In fact certain rather good character growth moments can be built out of seemingly contradictory decisions.  So you did the good tactical thing and saved the life of your rival.  The reasoning you give goes towards growing that rivalry, developing it into something else.  That’s not bad roleplaying that’s good roleplaying with the consequence of also being a good tactical player.

Which brings us to our original question.  Does having a good grasp of tactics make you a better roleplayer?  Yes.  Absolutely.

Having a good grasp of tactics let’s you pick from a variety of good choices to match your motive and vice versa.  Being able to match emotion with a real impactful action is all part of good roleplaying.  You can swing your sword mightily or scream in rage but neither has much meaning to the characters and players at the table if you don’t combine both.  It’s rather silly to play the battle hardened warrior, or the cunning and wiley pyromancer unless you make sensible decisions in regards to how you use their powers.

And ultimately you can’t really argue that your character is insensible or incompetent either as justification for bad decisions.  Not really.   It means that the justification and motive is just different.  You do what you do because it seems like a good idea at the time.  Or you stumble into it.  Or you simply try something crazy and it works.

And what does making an intentional decision gain you anyway?  A dead character?  Lost resources by the group?  It’s weak ground to stand on to claim roleplaying reasons when just as good reasons can be brought up to make the decisions that don’t cost the group resources to raise your dead character.

And if you make unintentionally bad decisions?  That’s a different animal.  You can learn to make better decisions in combat.  You can even learn them along with your character as they go from their humble low level roots to the high powered monsters all high level characters inevitably becomes.

In the end, yes having good tactics can make you a better roleplayer. Knowing the best decisions can let your character choose the one that bests suits their motivations and capabilities. But, good roleplaying does not necessarily mean ever being required to use bad tactics.

Let’s talk for a moment about spellcasting. By and large the definition of magic is being able to do something outside the realm of physics. If you define physics as the rules of the game than magic by and large allows you to do things beyond the written rules set. By that definition spellcasting is not the only realm of “magic”. You can also count a number of feats into it as well. You can call them passive magics that allow a character to do such things as punch as hard as if they were wielding a greatsword, or run faster than any other human being. We typically don’t define these as magic because the game setting itself doesn’t but the setting itself is not written from the readers point of view but the characters inhabiting it. However characters take feats that allow them to defy the “norm” of the rules constantly. Now, we’re not going to get into a balance discussion. I’m not here to debate with you why Weapon Focus is not the same game changer as fly or some other pointless scenario. The only thing I’m trying to get across with this point is that feats are very similar to spells. We don’t treat them as such purely because spells in-game are treated as finite things with finite times as resources whereas feats are treated as permanent things ingrained into the character. Sometimes we get abilities that let us exchange or borrow feats like the cavalier’s tactician ability. But for the most part we treat feats as just another facet of character building. It influences how we build our characters. We build martials around the feats we wish to take where spellcasters build their characters around the spells they want to use how they wish to employ them. But what if we got an ability that allowed us to treat feats, or rather entire feat chains, as spells? The ACG introduced many things to get excited over. But, I think perhaps the most underrated ability that needs to be carefully looked at is the brawler’s Martial Versatility. It’s an ability I wish had been invented at the very start of Pathfinder. It’s one that allows me to build the highly versatile swordsman, martial artist, or elite knight I’ve always wanted. It allows a character typically specialized in one combat maneuver the opportunity to branch into several. In essence it’s a breath of fresh air to martial’s I’d put above and beyond any swashbuckling deed or slayer talent. It’s good.

Master of 10,000 Styles

The Brawler’s Martial Flexibility ability reads as follows; Martial Flexibility (Ex): A brawler can take a move action to gain the benefit of a combat feat she doesn’t possess. his effect lasts for 1 minute. The brawler must meet all the feat’s prerequisites. She may use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + 1/2 her brawler level (minimum 1). The brawler can use this ability again before the duration expires in order to replace the previous combat feat with another choice. If a combat feat has a daily use limitation (such as Stunning Fist), any uses of that combat feat while using this ability count toward that feat’s daily limit. At 6th level, a brawler can use this ability to gain the benefit of two combat feats at the same time. She may select one feat as a swift action or two feats as a move action. She may use one of these feats to meet a prerequisite of the second feat; doing so means that she cannot replace a feat currently fulfilling another’s prerequisite without also replacing those feats that require it. Each individual feat selected counts toward her daily uses of this ability. At 10th level, a brawler can use this ability to gain the benefit of three combat feats at the same time. She may select one feat as a free action, two feats as a swift action, or three feats as a move action. She may use one of the feats to meet a prerequisite of the second and third feats, and use the second feat to meet a prerequisite of the third feat. Each individual feat selected counts toward her daily uses of this ability. At 12th level, a brawler can use this ability to gain the benefit of one combat feat as an immediate action or three combat feats as a swift action. Each individual feat selected counts toward her daily uses of this ability. At 20th level, a brawler can use this ability to gain the benefit of any number of combat feats as a swift action. Each feat selected counts toward her daily uses of this ability.

Overall a character with martial versatility will gain around 13 uses over the course of the day. If you use the maximum amount of feats this typically means around 3-4 uses per day with some expansion if you use fewer than that on a normal basis. These feats last precisely a minute (10 combat rounds) which is more than long enough to take advantage of them.

Generally speaking the best way to maximize this ability is to take a few root feats (powerattack and combat expertise are “musts”) and expand on that with a few good bread and butter feats you want to have all the time. After that we want a good list next to us separate from our character sheet of all the potential feats our characters can use and have a solid idea of what we can do with them.  This becomes our “spell list”.  From there we can draw on whatever we need for any given situation.  It would take someone with a lot more time and patience to go through all the potential combos and situations that this ability can open up to you.  For now I’m just going to list a few I’ve found worth considering.

Cleave/Great Cleave: This is one of those feat chains you wish you had against crowds of weak enemies but wish you hand’t against few or solo enemies.

Combat Maneuver Feats: The unfortunate fact about combat maneuvers is that while they can be used fairly effortlessly they still require a bit of investment to make them more than just viable.  Martial versatility let’s you pick the right set at the right time. Combo Martial Master with the Lore Warden archetype to build a fighter that can use every combat maneuver with incredible ease and massive bonuses.

Style Feats: This is most useful to brawlers, monks, or feral combat training specialists. You can take the base style feat for each of the styles you are interested in and save yourself anywhere between four and a dozen some odd feats.  Switch between styles as desired.

Improved Unarmed Strike+Deflect Arrows+Snatch Arrows: Archers are a massive pain but a martial versatility character has the means to negate much of the damage without problem.

Point Blank Shot + Rapid Shot + Many Shot: For many going ranged and melee is a bit tough but going both is necessary in order to meet all the potential combat environments a martial character will face.  Martial versatility however allows you to specialize in melee safely.  So go ahead and keep a good bow on hand.

Versatile Masters

Different classes can handle the same ability differently.  Martial versatility proves no exception in this regard.  While Brawlers are ultimately designed  for the feature there are a few other classes that gain the feature to go into their repertoire of abilities.

Martial Master: This fighter archetype replaces weapon training with martial versatility.  Combine with Lore Warden for the ultimate combat maneuver user.  Or combine with Mutagenic warrior to create an almost entirely different class.

Warsighted Oracle: An interesting choice for characters wanting to give a combat oracle a try. Certainly a unique opportunity slightly hampered by the fact the oracle is not a full BAB class.

Eldritch Scrapper (Sorcerer): An odd choice but it would be my go to archetype for making a dragon disciple.

This is just a short idea but there is a lot to explore with this ability and I encourage anyone playing a brawler or wanting to give the Lore Warden Master a shot to take the time and come up with any situational chains and combinations they can think of to give martial characters a new found life.


As nations roar into full-blown warfare and soldiers begin the march to battle, the machinesmiths answer the call to arms. They bring forth newfound terror to the battlefield—fantastic weaponry and new experiments in mass destruction: portable cannons, armor giving a man the strength of a bull, and constructs that can both kill and cook. Twisting old techniques into newfound uses, the machinesmith constantly innovates in an arms race that can mean life or death for her and her nation.

Inside this sourcebook you will find you’ll need to enhance on adventures when using the Machinesmith base class:

  • New Greatwork: The Constructor
  • New Machinesmith Tricks: New Analyzer Augmentations including Chance Optimizer, Swift Motion Analyzer and Spell Copier
  • New Mechanus Augmentations: Mobius Reactor, Drone Carrier, Venomous Fangs, Feral Intelligence
  • New Mobius Suit Augmentations: Install Weapon, Iron Fist, Reality Slider, Spell Deflector Unit
  • New Mobius Weapon Augmentations: Impact Hammer, Phantom Stroke, Proficiency Enhancer, Serrated Blade, Superior Maneuver
  • New Constructor Augmentations: Disharmony Blast, Large Scale, Mass Assembly, Recall Item
  • New Converter Augmentations: Combustion Field, Environmental Attuner, Stop Time
  • 15 All New Gadgets including Alchemical Sprayer, Pneumatic Launcher, Spare Hand and Thunder Stunner
  • 10 All New Techniques including Absorb Spell, Forge Fighter and Share Trick
  • Over 10 All New Prototypes including Animated Shieldbearer, Curative Construct, Explosive Tips and Mobius Converter

Something I wrote to support the Machinesmith class I worked on a couple of years back. 🙂