Sometimes I worry what my readers think of me. I know logically that nobody goes over this blog with a fine-toothed comb, looking for contradictions so they can shout “Aha! This person says he/she doesn’t like racial stereotyping, but there’s clearly a reference here to arcane archers! I have to let them know I’m onto them!” But I cut my teeth on Internet message boards full of young people who did exactly that, and old habits die hard. So I do wonder whether anybody recalls my screeds on how Pathfinder is going in a direction I don’t want and how it’s not for me any more, then notes how much I’m talking about our new Pathfinder campaign. I would not blame anybody who finds themselves with occasion to ask “what gives?”
The short answer is that yes, we are playing Pathfinder. But we’re going at it with a healthy disrespect for what the system thinks is a good idea, tossing out whatever we need to play the game we want. And the first major thing we’re doing to that end is our signature items.
Faith is more like an anime than a standard D&D campaign, or at least that’s our goal. We don’t have sessions, we have episodes. We don’t have adventures, we have arcs. Within this framework, the idea of players slowly cobbling together ugly outfits because they find powerful magic gear in the trash doesn’t make sense. Equipment changes should be meaningful and discrete, not the piecemeal process by which a character usually finds, enhances, and eventually sells all their items. I wanted the characters to have at least one item around which they could base their character, knowing it would grow with them and give them something more unique and flavorful than anything they could get on the loot tables.
I found part of my answer in the surprisingly good Weapons of Legacy, a D&D 3.5E rulebook about items that level with their owners. A item of legacy is something, usually a weapon, that gained power after causing or being subject to some major event. Examples include the thief’s backup dagger dealing the finishing blow to a minotaur after it shattered his original weapon and nearly killed the party, or the crossbow the ranger used to defend the town long enough for the king’s guard to arrive even if she did succumb to her wounds afterward. The item gains a spark of power, and a character who wants to benefit from this spark must perform a ritual in keeping with the items’ origin and goals. If they do, and if they’re willing to give up a bit of their own power, the item attunes to them and gains new abilities as the player levels, like going from a +1 scythe at L2 to a +5 keen unholy scythe with death powers at L20.
I loved items of legacy as a concept, but it always bothered me how much a character had to give up to use them. First, a character had to get the item in her hot little hands. Since these are deliberately unique, she couldn’t make it the way she might make a ring of protection, so she had to trust the DM to deposit one in her lap. Once she had it, she had to research its origins. Then she had to perform some quest so the item allowed itself to be used by her. Then she had to perform the actual attunement ritual, which cost a non-trivial amount of money. Then she had to accept the items’ costs, which might be one spell slot of each level and/or a permanent penalty to her maximum hit points and/or some of her skill points. Only then did she get access to the legacy powers available to characters of her level…until a little later, because each item of legacy actually had three tiers of power, and a character couldn’t access later tiers until she went through another round of research, questing, rituals, and costs. I understand why the designers did it this way, because there had to be some game balance factor to an item that gained power level-by-level for little to no monetary cost, I just don’t like that they did it.
So we’re using items of legacy in Faith, but we’re doing away with the costs entirely. Everybody is getting an item, so I don’t need to balance the haves against the have-nots. Nobody’s going to be jealous that another player got a neat item because everybody has their own, custom-built for their character. I also don’t need to balance them against the game’s expected power level because we haven’t cared about those recommendations for a long time. In another campaign we recently fought a monster the DM accurately labeled “a CR-equivalent encounter” and destroyed it in two and a half rounds with almost no resources spent, and in this campaign the characters are more powerful than that and more ready for dramatic, long-haul battles. I don’t care about what Pathfinder thinks we should do at our level, I care what we’re actually doing, and what we’re doing can tolerate a bit more awesomeness.
That’s really the point, too. All of these items are a physical form of Law 5. I asked the players what they wanted in their items, we discussed them as a group, and everybody got something that fit with their character, their deity, the mechanics they wanted to use, the tropes they wanted to leverage, and their role in the party:
Sildroag, fate-punching front-line hero: Collar of Perseverance
This stylized slave collar is heavy in your hand, but once around your neck it’s almost weightless. In fact, you feel it lifting your body, spurring you onward at the end of a long day.
Determinator (Su): Your tenacity stretches the limits of the possible. You can enter or maintain a bloodrage even when you have no rounds of bloodrage remaining. Essentially, your remaining rounds of bloodrage may go below 0. At the end of any round in which you have negative bloodrage rounds remaining and you are in a bloodrage, you take one point of nonlethal damage per class level per round of bloodrage (for example, if you have -2 rounds of bloodrage remaining and you are 4th level, you take 8 nonlethal damage at the end of the round).
Unshakable (Ex): You won’t fall to magic tricks when you know you’re needed. When you are in a bloodrage with fewer than 0 rounds remaining, You gain a +1 bonus to saving throws. At 6th level, and every six levels thereafter, this bonuses increases by +1.
Jace, remorseless aristocratic commander: Gauntlet of Subjugation
This gauntlet was made for you…or is it the other way around? It’s not important. What matters it how you’re going to use it to bring your opponents to their knees.
Go, My Minion! (Su): Though your followers may be yours only temporarily, they will still go above and beyond for you. When a creature fails its save against your murderous command, select one of the following additional effects. Each effect lasts for the duration of murderous command:
Closer!: You instruct your minions to aim for weak points. The target gains a +1 morale bonus to any attack rolls it makes. At 5th level, and every five levels thereafter, this bonuses increases by +1.
Faster!: You won’t be denied just because somebody is slightly too far away. Beginning at 3rd level, you will your minions to close the gap with their former allies. The target gains a +10-foot enhancement bonus to speed. This bonus increases to +20 feet at 9th level and +30 feet at 15th level.
Liam, devout moral support: Soul-Strung Guitar
As you strum this guitar, you see your music manifest around you. With the right chords you can change how the notes tilt and sway, tying you with your allies in ways they feel more than understand.
Concert Set (Ex): What’s the point in performing if you can’t wow a crowd all night? You can use raging song for 1 addition round per day per class level.
Encore (Su): As your skill at performing improves, so do the length of your songs and the magic in them. When you sustain a raging song for a certain number of rounds, you can invoke one of the following encores. Each encore lasts until your performance ends. You can only use one encore per raging song; if you play for two rounds and use con brio, you cannot use legato when you play for a third round.
Con Brio: Your upbeat melodies keep your allies moving. When you sustain a raging song for two rounds or more, each ally affected by the song gains fast healing 1. At 5th level, and every five levels thereafter, this fast healing increases by 1.
Legato: The winds don’t just carry your songs, they obey the lyrics. Beginning at 3rd level, when you sustain a raging song for three rounds or more, each ally affected by the song gains a +2 deflection bonus to AC. At 6th level, and every six levels thereafter, this bonus increases by 1.
Sarai, studious reptilian glass cannon: Scimitar of Last Resorts
This sword looks too ornate to be functional, but it flows through the air like an extension of your arm. In fact, the connection goes both ways; when you’re in danger, it lends you an extension of its own power.
Desperation Mode (Su): Like a snake, you’re most dangerous when backed into a corner. Once per day when your hit point total goes below 5 × your level, you can enter desperation mode. You remain in desperation mode until your hit point total is higher than 7 x your level, you fall unconscious, or the encounter ends. You may use this ability one additional time per day for every six class levels you have, but no more than once per encounter.
When you enter desperation mode you may one of the following effects:
Black Mamba: You gain a +5-foot bonus to your speed and you gain Mobility as a bonus feat. At 5th level, and every five levels thereafter, this bonuses increases by +5. At 7th level you also gain the effects of blur, and at 12th level you also gain the effects of haste.
Limit Break (Su): You can spend all your energy on a single devastating move. Beginning at 3rd level you can end your desperation mode as a standard action to use one of the following abilities:
Black Mamba: Make a single melee attack against every enemy within a radius of your reach plus 5 feet. This radius increases by 5 feet per three levels beyond 3rd. Your speed becomes 15 feet until the end of the encounter.
Angeline, self-important magical girl: Glitterborn Staff
Though this ornate staff looks like a children’s toy, it’s as sturdy as steel. It glows subtly with the power and energy of pure goodness—represented best by you, obviously.
Astonishing Light (Su): Your staff’s most basic power is a simple, glittering beam of light. You can use the staff to shoot a magical bolt of energy as a standard action, targeting any foe within close range as a ranged touch attack. This beam deals 1d6 points of damage at 1st level, and the damage increases by 1d6 for every three class levels thereafter.
Astonishingly Light (Ex): It feels like this staff weighs nothing at all! You may use your Dexterity modifier instead of your Strength modifier on attack rolls with the staff.
Magical Girl Transformation (Su): No self-respecting magical girl only has one set of clothes. Beginning at 3rd level, once per day as a standard action you can transform your staff and your clothing into a new form that grants you new powers. The transform lasts until the end of the encounter or until you fall unconscious. You may use this ability one additional time per day for every six class levels you have, but no more than once per encounter.
When you transform you may choose one of the following forms:
Elemental Sparkle: Select one type of elemental energy (acid, cold, electricity, or fire). You gain resist 5 + your caster level to that energy type. Your astonishing light deals the energy damage you choose, and any spells you cast that deal damage of that type gain a +2 bonus to caster level checks. Your staff and clothing transform to a style befitting your energy type.
As the campaign progresses and the character settles into their roles more, these items will gain new abilities (obviously; there’s no point to “choose one of the following” powers when there’s only one option). Right now those abilities are somewhat automatic; the characters will have to finish arcs and beat opponents to get them but there’s won’t be a direct cause-and effect like “you beat the Fire Lord, so you’ve unlocked your flame form”. While that’s neat and I want to do it some day, it doesn’t work for this campaign where the characters are indirectly powered by their deities.
The point is that none of these abilities are part of Pathfinder. They may be based on something that exists now or existed in previous editions, and they fit more or less within the rules, but we wrote our own things because the system as it is doesn’t work with what we want. That’s what I’m trying to do: instead of changing how we play to fit Pathfinder’s meta, we’re changing Pathfinder to fit what we want to play. It’s not easy and it takes a fair amount of system mastery, and I expect I’ll have to rebalance things somewhere along the way, but we don’t have the sort of group where one player will mise our custom mechanics for a selfish advantage then complain when the rest of us have a problem with it. We’re tweaking things to fit our vision for this particular cooperative gaming environment, and we’re not giving the system as written sufficient standing to overrule it.