Chad Perrin: SOB

14 October 2009

Introducing the Mage Class, Release Candidate 1

Filed under: Geek,RPG — Tags: , , , — apotheon @ 11:11

(TL;DR Summary: I’ve updated the mage class for compatibility with the PRPG CRB.)

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

Late last year, I started talking about Replacing the Wizard in my Pathfinder RPG campaigns. I referred to one in particular that I gave the class name Mage, since that term wasn’t in use in D&D 3.5. The most significant difference between the custom mage class and the PHB‘s wizard class was the spellcasting system used:

With this system, spellcasting draws upon the inner reserves of the spellcaster, essentially in the form of physical damage (hit points). When casting a spell, a save is made, and if the player fails his or her character’s save, the character takes a number of points of damage equal to the spell’s level (or “magnitude”, as I renamed it for this system). That’s not the preferred means of spellcasting, however.

In addition to the above, the Mage can also prepare spells. A total number of spell magnitudes determined by the character’s level can be prepared at any one time. A prepared spell can be cast as long as it stays prepared, as a standard action (or different action type as appropriate to a particular spell, in nonstandard cases), without wiping itself from “memory” (since this isn’t a matter of memorization). Each time it is cast, however, a save must be made to determine whether the preparation fails, at which point one can no longer cast that spell except as described above for spells that have not been prepared in advance — complete with the danger of taking damage.

After a fair bit of playtesting, though, I discovered that while this seems to balance pretty well (at least in theory) for your “average” mage, the power level of the character can quickly get a little unwieldy with certain character development tracks. It’s even worse since the release of the Pathfinder RPG CRB, because the power level of the PC classes has been toned down a bit since the PRPG Beta Test version. The ongoing playtest of my Mage class has been quite illuminating, to say the least.

I knew there was some chance it wouldn’t balance out well, because it’s such a significant departure from the normal system that there was just too much different about it to be entirely predictable in actual play — particularly in terms of how it interacted with the rest of the game system. Feats turned out to be the downfall of the way the system was designed.

The other day, I wasn’t really thinking too much about how to fix it. I had other things on my mind, but I got into a discussion of how the class works with a friend (call him n8) and he asked me a question: “Why have characters prepare spells at all?”

As I explained when I first posted details of the class online, in Wizard variant: Mage class (now in Beta), I was trying to retain some of the Vancian flavor of the wizard class without keeping the problems of the D&D Vancian system of magic. I explained that to n8 in this discussion, but eventually I came to rethink the idea.

As a result of this and the recognition of a need to limit the power of the class more, I’ve reworked the class and its spellcasting system so that:

  • There’s no spell preparation involved.

  • Casting spells almost always “hurts”.

  • The class can do more than just cast spells.

  • Managing the character’s spellcasting ability is less complex.

Among the motivations for the way the class is developing is a desire to make the class better suited to campaigns that are slightly more dangerous than the generic average, and campaigns where magic is supposed to be more dangerous, difficult, and rare.

I imagine that the new Mage Release Candidate 1 class won’t be suitable to as many people’s games as the direction I was taking with the Beta test version. In fact, I’m using a variation on the Vitality/Wounds optional rules for damage presented in the Unearthed Arcana book (see Wound Points for details), and the RC1 version of the Mage class was designed with that in mind. I haven’t really thought too hard (yet) about how well the new version of the class would work with the default hit point system for resolving damage, but after some cursory thought, I think the cost of casting spells for a Mage is probably a bit too high.

I have some other ideas in mind for possible rules additions to the class, though I’m not convinced any of them are necessarily a good idea at this point. I’ll be thinking about it, though.


  1. A bit off-track, but I remember in (one of?) your Beta versions of this, you had some comments about an INT based Investigate skill you used to address PFRPG’s replacement of Search and Gather Information. I notice this is no longer a class skill for the Mage. Did you just remove it from the Class Skill list or have you come up with something else for your Investigate skill?

    The class looks great so far, I need to reread it a couple more times before I think I’ll really grasp it completely, though. It’s a pretty radical approach to a new class compared to most that already exist, but I definitely like how it has turned out so far.


    Comment by Brad — 24 October 2009 @ 02:25

  2. I’ve stopped assuming that specific skills must be associated with specific attributes, actually. No Investigate skill is needed now. For instance, if you want a more observational Perception check, just use Intelligence + Perception, and if you want a more alertness/spot style Perception check, use Wisdom + Perception. In general, I just have players record skill ranks and modifiers without including attribute modifiers, then when I need players to make skill rolls, I tell them to roll skill Foo plus attribute Bar.

    I’m glad you like what you see in the Mage class in general. As always, I appreciate the feedback. Let me know if you find any problems, or if you playtest it and have any thoughts about how well it plays.

    Comment by apotheon — 24 October 2009 @ 03:08

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