Unfortunately, a lot of mechanics in Pathfinder are just numbers on the page. There isn’t too much difference in feeling between a Will save and a Reflex save, other than the name. Sure, each is caused by different circumstances, but in the end all a player is doing is picking up their d20, rolling it and adding a few numbers. This is the bane of Pathfinder in general. It’s much more ‘roll’-playing than roleplaying. There are a few mechanics that shine, hidden deep within some of the more obscure classes. These mechanics allow players to explore their class and create some fun roleplaying potential that goes beyond a simple roll of the die.
Here are 4 Pathfinder class mechanics with awesome roleplay potential.
1) Witch: Hexes
There’s no bigger home run in Pathfinder than the Witch class. This whole class revolves around the Hex mechanic. Witches can use a variety of different hexes against their friends and foes. Some are useful, such as Evil Eye; some, not so much, like Child-Scent. Most are relatively simple, but there is potential to really slip into the witch character through hexes.
Maybe a player wants to have their witch brewing potions over a cauldron? Hexes can do that: specifically Cauldron + Witch’s Bottle. Another player may want to fully embrace the idea of being one with the bog. Hexes can do that too: Swamp Hag + Swamp’s Grasp offer potential to embrace such a character. Luckily with Hexes, Witches are capable still being good in combat, cursing another creature and then madly cackling each round to ensure the curse stays strong: Evil Eye + Cackle.
A player can even further build their character into the roleplay with the Witch’s spell selection and patron familiar. They can be accompanied by a black cat that specifically acts as their spellbook, or even something more bizarre like a blue-ringed octopus.
2) Oracle: Curse
It’s not often when building a character that a player gets to build an actual mechanical weakness into their backstory. An Oracle’s curse does exactly that. The curse mechanic is something all 1st level Oracles are forced to have. It requires choosing an effect that is both a benefit and a hindrance. After choosing it, the curse cannot be changed without the help of a deity. Simply put, the bottom line: no if’s, and’s, or but’s, this curse sticks.
There is an abundance in the variety of curse effects that open the door to roleplaying potential. The options range from simple (such as being deafened or having clouded vision), to more fantastical (such as the promethean curse: the player’s body is falling apart and needs mechanical augmentations to survive). Scrolling through the Oracle curse page provides a collection of curses all teeming with backstory and roleplay potential.
In addition to the curse Oracles also have the choice of a mystery, that acts similarly to a domain in that it grants various abilities and spells as the Oracle levels. There is a good variety there, allowing players to choose a curse matching their mystery, or instead choosing to be the multi-faceted Oracle that’s ailed by various otherworldly maladies.
3) Alchemist: Alchemy, Bombs And Discoveries
The Alchemist provides a different and complicated form of spellcasting. They mix together a variety of ingredients (according to the formulae) to create extracts that, when consumed, trigger the spell. In addition to that, Alchemists are also very good at building bombs to create some chaos with.
These mechanics don’t scream normal. They seem to resonate more with a mad scientist or shunned genius. This fire is further fueled by the addition of Discoveries that an Alchemist can make as they level. Discoveries give an Alchemist a variety of strange, unique, and character defining effects to their potions and bombs. Holy Bombs allow for the creation of a Holy Hand Grenade kind of deal. The Syringe Stirge Discovery creates a small construct of a stirge (a giant, more evil mosquito) that carries one of the Alchemist’s bombs until it latches to an enemy and explodes.
I’ll say again: mad scientist.
Alchemists have another notable mechanic in the Mutagen effect, which allows an Alchemist to pump themselves up, boosting a physical stat and hampering a mental one. I don’t want to beat the mad scientist horse to death but: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
4) Vigilante: Dual Identity
Let’s cut to the chase and introduce this mechanic as Batman. Yes, Batman. The Dual Identity mechanic for the Vigilante requires the player to design not only their normal character, but their masked counterpart as well. Of course it doesn’t require a mask specifically, but we are going to be building Batman here. There are a variety of rules and bonuses that come along with the Dual Identity, but they all revolve around a similar idea: the two sides of the coin style of Vigilante.
As Vigilantes level up they gain Social Talents. These talents provide deeper roleplay potential and various perks to the Vigilante. Social Talents all have a thematic feeling to them. Case the Joint, for example, allows players to visit as their normal identity, learn information about the location and use that to their advantage later when they come again as their secret identity.
On the flip side there are also Vigilante Talents that provide a huge selection of choices to a player creating this type of character. Many Vigilante Talents are combat oriented, while some are situational. Perfect Fall is an example that is beneficial to any superhero, as it allows falling players to take no damage if there is a wall or surface within reach while falling.
A vigilante also seems like a great class for a solo campaign with another DM. There’s also nothing wrong (actually, it’s incredibly awesome) with a group of players forming a super hero squad that fights crime in a city against other masked villains.
As for making Batman, it’s entirely possible. Scrolling through both the Social and Vigilante Talents reveals numerous choices to make a wealthy social figure who spends their free time putting fear into the hearts of villains everywhere. The orphan part may need to be added into the backstory though.
This is just a small selection of mechanics that I really enjoy in lesser known classes of Pathfinder. There are more, but those are all saved for another day. In the meantime I’m going to go build a few characters in these classes because I found myself getting overwhelmed with ideas as I wrote this. I’m probably going to convince the group to do a superhero squad for our Twitch channel.
Any other class mechanics you enjoy in Pathfinder or other roleplaying games? Let me know in the comments.
Justin Cauti is a writer and Twitch streamer. He plays board/roleplaying games on the internet at http://www.playingboardgames.tv. Follow him on Twitter for updates on his boring life and writing projects @LeftSideJustin.
Image Source: Pathfinder Alchemy Manual (from DeviantArt)
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.