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Why Undercasting?


Rules Questions

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Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I have a rules question that's more "Why" than "How." Regarding Undercasting, I understand that it originated in Occult Adventures, but I have to wonder why Paizo chose Undercasting as opposed to the already-open-licensed overcasting as it appears in the Psionics handbook, or the similar implementation in Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed/Evolved open licensed product, or even WotC's open version of overcasting in 5e.

In my mind, just as addition is more intuitive than subtraction, it would seem more intuitive to pick a spell, and have higher versions built into the spell as you level, rather than going through the dance of "pick a spell, then when you level, pick the same spell AGAIN, then pick another spell to replace the spell you just replaced."

Was it that Paizo felt it would be on shaky OGL-ground to use overcasting? Was it a "Not Invented Here" mindset (which I doubt, Paizo's been known to re-use good, simple existing OGC before)? While it works just fine, and I'm not complaining about its serviceability, I'm just curious if someone sees some advantage to Undercasting versus Overcasting that I'm not, or maybe just to get a little of Paizo's thought process on it for someone who might be in the position to know. By comparison, from an elegance standpoint, it just seems to be a bit clunkier than previous similar ways to handle the same thing.

To be honest, there's a couple of places in the Core book where I would have liked to see undercasting pushed even further (Dispel Magic / Greater Dispel, Invisibility / Mass Invisibility, Maybe even roll "Vanish" from Pathfinder in as a 1st level version, etc.) And I'm hoping the trend will continue with future SF releases, since it really adds to the sense of a spell-caster progressing in their pushing of magical effects to new limits as they gain experience.


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Pathfinder Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Undercasting is more balanced than overcasting for spontaneous casters, at least as implemented. You don't get a high-level spell known without spending a high level slot. If I could overcast, I would want all my low-level spells known to be scaling spells. 5e generally just scales the same effect, letting you overcast for more damage or hit points. Their spells known are also a total limit, not x spells of level 1 and y spells of level 2, meaning overcasting and undercasting are almost identical. Starfinder, meanwhile, provides different effects in a spell line, like with Fly, so overcasting wouldn't just be a replacement for caster level scaling. You also have spells broken out by level, so getting a third-level spell known with a first-level spell known slot is more unbalancing than vice versa.

The Exchange

I'm not as familiar with overcasting but the system they used here is one they've experimented with before and had some experience with in their system. Via the occult products. I also think it's balanced to the use of spells known of particular levels. This way your third level spell know contains lower level functions instead of your first level spell having higher level options.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16

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Overcasting breaks the spells known economy and makes any low level spell that can't be overcast underpowered compared to spells that can.

Let's say you know four 1st level spells and two 2nd level spells. If all of those 1st level spells can be overcast, then you essentially know SIX 2nd level spells and four 1st level spells.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Cyrad wrote:

Overcasting breaks the spells known economy and makes any low level spell that can't be overcast underpowered compared to spells that can.

Let's say you know four 1st level spells and two 2nd level spells. If all of those 1st level spells can be overcast, then you essentially know SIX 2nd level spells and four 1st level spells.

Interesting idea, I hadn't thought of spells known as an "economy" before, especially if there are no prepared casters in the game. It just adds a little more versatility. Fair point from QuidEst about having X spells of Y level, too. I do want to see Undercasting continue being utilized in the future, because it keeps from having multiple spells with minor variations.


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In fact, I wish they had combined a few of the "Lesser X/X/Greater X" spells in the core rulebook into single multi-level spells.

Silver Crusade

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Ventnor wrote:
In fact, I wish they had combined a few of the "Lesser X/X/Greater X" spells in the core rulebook into single multi-level spells.

Agreed on this, and for home games I will make it so if I don't find a convincing reason not to. i.e. Why do I need restoration and lesser restoration separately?


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Add me to the chorus who would love to officially see more core rulebooks spells conjoined in this way.

Anyway, in the meantime, here's one thought about how to do this:

Porridge wrote:

I'm going to expand the list of variable-level spells by merging any spells whose description starts “This spell functions as X, except/but…” with spell X. (So, for example, the Hold Monster description starts “This spell functions as Hold Person, except…”, so Hold Person and Hold Monster would be merged.)

This adds 17 variable-level spells to the 9 given in the CRB. So we end up with the following expanded list of variable-level spells (new entries bolded):

    Variable-Level Spells:

  • Charm (1,3) [Charm Person, Charm Monster]
  • Command (1,5) [Command, Greater Command]
  • Confusion (1,4) [Confusion, Greater Confusion]
  • Creation (4-5)
  • Daze (0,2) [Daze, Daze Monster]
  • Discharge (3,6) [Discharge, Greater Discharge]
  • Dismissal (4-5)
  • Dispel Magic (3,5) [Dispel Magic, Greater Dispel Magic]
  • Fear (1-4)
  • Flight (1-6)
  • Hold (2,4) [Hold Person, Hold Monster]
  • Holographic Image (1-6)
  • Inflict Pain (2,6) [Inflict Pain, Mass Inflict Pain]
  • Invisibility (2,4,6) [Invisibility, Greater Invisibility, Mass Invisibility]
  • Mending (0,2) [Mending, Make Whole]
  • Mind Thrust (1-6)
  • Mystic Cure (1-6)
  • Mystic Cure Mass (5-6)
  • Planar Binding (4-6)
  • Remove Condition (1,2,5) [Lesser Remove Condition, Remove Condition, Greater Remove Condition]
  • Resistant Armor (3-6) [Lesser Resistant Armor, Resistant Armor, Resistant Aegis, Greater Resistant Armor]
  • Restoration (2,4) [Lesser Restoration, Restoration]
  • Rewire Flesh (4,6) [Rewire Flesh, Mass Rewire Flesh]
  • Suggestion (3,6) [Suggestion, Mass Suggestion]
  • Synaptic Pulse (3,5) [Synaptic Pulse, Greater Synaptic Pulse]
  • Teleport (5-6) [Teleport, Interplanetary Teleport]


Seems a reasonable house rule. Any thoughts on reasons why *not* to do it, IE, ways it would break the game?


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Metaphysician wrote:
Seems a reasonable house rule. Any thoughts on reasons why *not* to do it, IE, ways it would break the game?

When I broached this question in a (much) earlier thread, Mark Seifter chipped in and said that he'd suggested some of these mergers to Owen, but Owen decided not to do it because they didn't fit the schema of variable-level spells having an option at every level after the initial one. (E.g., the Dispel Magic merger above only has level 3 and 6 options, not level 3, 4, 5, and 6 options.)

Although Mark didn't spell this discussion in much detail, my feeling was that Owen was guided by the thought that having "gappy" variable-level spells might detract from the overall push to make Starfinder as simple and easy to grasp as possible. But Mark didn't suggest any reasons for thinking that these mergers would be problematic.

(As an aside: It also wasn't clear why the Teleport and Resistant Armor mergers weren't added, since those *do* give options at every level after the level at which they kick in. But maybe those two were oversights?)


The way Starfinder fixed Martial-Caster Disparity was removing casters. Every class is at least partly martial, especially considering the importance of weapons and armour in staying relevant.
Removing summoning spells did close the gap more, but they also made Animate Dead non-Evil (despite Paizo being firmly against doing so for EVER), opening it up to every caster (and it's on both spell lists). Not nearly as convenient or powerful as Summon Monster and it uses up your precious money you need to buy your mandatory equipment, but it also doesn't have a duration so I guess you can stow them on your ship. ... Also, Mystic Cure can resurrect people with no cost and only a temporary negative level.

Looking at it again, yes, Starfinder is Undercasting. That's my bad for missing that. I guess it confused me because the spells don't scale and all have identical names the same way 5E does it and they list the level range they can be cast at, rather than being in the format Pathfinder's Undercasting uses.


They hardly removed casters. Making the standard caster classes 6-level casters who actually have various useful other abilities is not "eliminating".

Paizo Employee Customer Service Manager

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Removed some baiting and derisive posts and replies. Critique is fine, but you need to remain respectful of other people. Tone can be difficult to convey via text based mediums such as forum posts. Hyperbole and sarcasm can quickly escalate debates (which are okay) into arguments or fighting (which are not okay).
If you need a post back to rewrite it, you can email community@paizo.com.


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Bloodrealm wrote:

The way Starfinder fixed Martial-Caster Disparity was removing casters. Every class is at least partly martial, especially considering the importance of weapons and armour in staying relevant.

Removing summoning spells did close the gap more, but they also made Animate Dead non-Evil (despite Paizo being firmly against doing so for EVER), opening it up to every caster (and it's on both spell lists). Not nearly as convenient or powerful as Summon Monster and it uses up your precious money you need to buy your mandatory equipment, but it also doesn't have a duration so I guess you can stow them on your ship. ... Also, Mystic Cure can resurrect people with no cost and only a temporary negative level.

Looking at it again, yes, Starfinder is Undercasting. That's my bad for missing that. I guess it confused me because the spells don't scale and all have identical names the same way 5E does it and they list the level range they can be cast at, rather than being in the format Pathfinder's Undercasting uses.

Bloodrealm -

I don't think it is fair to say that Paizo removed casters. Clearly there are casters in the system still after all. I think, fundamentally, the issue is one of perception. Longtime Pathfinder players are having a hard time understanding that Starfinder isn't just Pathfinder 2.0. It is a different system as a whole.

There are radical changes to melee characters:
1. Everyone gets Weapon Specialization (and it scales)
2. The Removal of a number of "Must Have" Feats.
3. 5 ft step was removed and Guarded Step (which uses a move action) was added.
4. Iterative Attacks were completely removed from the system.
5. Full Attack, Two Weapon Fighting, and Reach Melee Weapons all underwent significant changes.
6. The increased durability of characters makes it so melee characters don't "one shot kill" enemies, even at low levels. (In Pathfinder a level 1 Fighter with a 2 handed weapon, power attack, and a 16 in a stat would insta-kill a goblin.)

There are radical changes to casters:
1. Casters can no longer be interrupted by ranged attacks.
2. Casters only go to 6th level spells.
3. There are no more "Arcane" and "Divine" spells, so "Wizards" can get access to the cure spells.
4. Evocation is now actually possible without it being ridiculously niche.
5. Casters have more non-spell capabilities.
6. You can cast while wearing armor without an issue.

The game is not Pathfinder 2.0 - It is Starfinder. A different core system that has similarities to Pathfinder, but that is about it. It is to Pathfinder what 3.0 was to 2nd Edition.

Comparing a Starfinder Caster to a Pathfinder Caster is like comparing a Pathfinder Caster to a 2nd Edition Caster.

And, I should note, if you ever read a 2nd Edition AD&D Fireball you'll see that the Pathfinder (and 3.X) version is weak in comparison.

I'll give an example:

This is from the old 2nd Edition AD&D PHB's fireball:

"The fireball fills an area equal to its normal spherical volume (roughly 33,000 cubic feet--thirty-three 10-foot × 10-foot × 10-foot cubes)"

So if you were in an 80ft x 10ft x 10 ft hallway (a 16 ft long by 2 wide by 2 tall hallway) and you shot a fireball 40 feet down the hallway, it would explode and fill the entire hallway as the hallway has a total space of 8 10x10x10 squares vs. the 20 ft radius that Pathfinder has currently.

That makes 2nd Edition Fireball far different than 3rd, 3.5, and Pathfinder Fireballs... (and yes, what that means is in 2nd Edition a 5th level Wizard was theoretically capable of destroying entire buildings, if not some towns, in one shot, especially since NPC villagers were generally 0th level.) does that mean that Pathfinder took away Fireball? No, of course not, it is a different game, thus a different Fireball.

I think we have to apply the same logic here.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Personally, I see removal of "Full Caster Only" classes as a positive step, because of two things:

1) Versatility. It feels kind of limiting if the ONLY trick a character has is just "yet more spell slots" as wizards and sorcerers do, though to a lesser extent clerics and oracles). Sorcerers and Wizards might have a few extra tricks, but by and large if all their slots are used, they are almost useless (low skill points, a few level-based tricks like the bloodline and specialization daily tricks, and that's about it). Gods forbid they run into a highly spell-resistant creature or zone of anti-magic.

2) As noted in a few design articles, having more than just casting available gives designers room for archetypes and more variant abilities. If you delay or replace some of a full caster's slots or spells known as part of a variant or archetype, that hurts their abilities significantly.

So in some ways I miss them, but for the good of the game and its design space, I'm not that upset.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Pawns, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
HWalsh wrote:
There are no more "Arcane" and "Divine" spells, so "Wizards" can get access to the cure spells.

Please explain how this is done.


The 1/2 BAB, empty-handed, armorless reality-warpers will likely show up in a later book. Like probably next year.

And by the way, it is possible to have significant class features other than spellcasting on such classes: Obviously not yet any examples in Starfinder, but in Pathfinder, Arcanist, Oracle, Psychic, Shaman, and Witch certainly qualify. These are not legacy classes, but were introduced during the history of Pathfinder RPG itself, so the lack of class features (not complete but certainly glaring) on the Cleric and Wizard seems to be a legacy thing. (I left out the legacy classes Druid and Sorcerer because they are sort of in between with respect to non-spell class feature density -- Druid seems not all that different from the D&D 3.x Druid, but Pathfinder made a HUGE improvement to the Sorcerer, so that it's almost like a new class compared to D&D 3.x . . . now if only they'd balance and reorganize the various bloodlines . . . .) Also note that the Intelligence-based 9/9 casters are not exactly low-skill, and that at least the Oracle, Shaman, and Witch can keep going doing more than just skill checks and plinking with crossbow bolts even after they have totally run out of spells.

Paizo Employee Customer Service Manager

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Removed some more posts.


Bloodrealm wrote:

The way Starfinder fixed Martial-Caster Disparity was removing casters. Every class is at least partly martial, especially considering the importance of weapons and armour in staying relevant.

Removing summoning spells did close the gap more, but they also made Animate Dead non-Evil (despite Paizo being firmly against doing so for EVER), opening it up to every caster (and it's on both spell lists). Not nearly as convenient or powerful as Summon Monster and it uses up your precious money you need to buy your mandatory equipment, but it also doesn't have a duration so I guess you can stow them on your ship. ... Also, Mystic Cure can resurrect people with no cost and only a temporary negative level.

Looking at it again, yes, Starfinder is Undercasting. That's my bad for missing that. I guess it confused me because the spells don't scale and all have identical names the same way 5E does it and they list the level range they can be cast at, rather than being in the format Pathfinder's Undercasting uses.

You can't fix a non-existent problem. A fighter/barbarian will beat a wizard/sorcerer in a fight 9 times out of 10. Casters are better at 5 vs 5 but martial win 1 vs 1.


Also, you talk about summon monster a lot. Casting summon monster brings incredibly inferior monsters to the battlefield. You can be in a party of 4 5th level characters and cast summon monster 3 to bring out a CR 2 creature, which does nothing against the CR 7 boss that you are fighting.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
CactusUnicorn wrote:
You can't fix a non-existent problem. A fighter/barbarian will beat a wizard/sorcerer in a fight 9 times out of 10. Casters are better at 5 vs 5 but martial win 1 vs 1.

There's a few issues:

1) The game isn't designed for PvP, so pairing up classes against each other to see who will "win" isn't very useful for determining game balance.

2) The class tier system, which determined which classes were overpowered or underpowered, was designed to evaluate versatility and narrative power over raw combat power. The higher tier classes could not only do their own job with ease, but they could also do everyone else's job with ease. That's what made wizards so powerful.

3) The one time we tried to set up a Level 20 PvP on the PF forums with clear rules and a moderator every martial class proponent chickened out at the end and refused to face the wizard. It turned out that when you remove schrodinger's wizard, schrodinger's fighter becomes true.


OTOH, even if your just fighting the one CR 7 boss, that CR 2 critter can do stuff like get in the way, soak up attacks, Aid Another, etc. Basically, make itself a nuisance. It doesn't fight for you, per se, it acts as a force multiplier, providing extra flanking if nothing else.

In Starfinder, some of this stuff doesn't matter as much, but OTOH, it can attempt to get into melee range with ranged enemies. If they shoot it down beforehand, that's attacks you didn't eat. If they try to ignore it, they keep getting AoOs and having partial cover between them and you.


bookrat wrote:
3) The one time we tried to set up a Level 20 PvP on the PF forums with clear rules and a moderator every martial class proponent chickened out at the end and refused to face the wizard. It turned out that when you remove schrodinger's wizard, schrodinger's fighter becomes true.

Sorry, but I remember these, they are never "fair" they are always designed in such a way to put the battle in the Wizard's favor from moment one.

There is not now, nor has there ever actually been, a CM/D and there certainly isn't one in Starfinder, so please lets not bring this debate here.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
HWalsh wrote:
bookrat wrote:
3) The one time we tried to set up a Level 20 PvP on the PF forums with clear rules and a moderator every martial class proponent chickened out at the end and refused to face the wizard. It turned out that when you remove schrodinger's wizard, schrodinger's fighter becomes true.

Sorry, but I remember these, they are never "fair" they are always designed in such a way to put the battle in the Wizard's favor from moment one.

There is not now, nor has there ever actually been, a CM/D and there certainly isn't one in Starfinder, so please lets not bring this debate here.

They were fair, as those in favor of the martial class had equal input into the design of the test. They only seem like they're not fair because of the CM/D.

Regardless, I feel that SF has done an excellent job in removing it. 6th level casters were always the best designed classes in PF, and I love that they've taken that to become the full caster in SF, while boosting the martial classes through improved class features, the removal of feat trees, and the damage scaling of gear. Additionally, spells are no longer quadratic - they don't automatically improve with level.

So while our casters grow in versatility, their lower levels spells don't grow in power. And at the same time, our martial classes both grow in power that scales with spell levels and they have increased versatility. It's fantastic. I can play my favorite class without feeling useless, now (the fighter/soldier).

I had stated this earlier, but unfortunately my post was deleted because I responded to someone who broke the community guidelines (and apparently continues to do so).


bookrat wrote:
Additionally, spells are no longer quadratic - they don't automatically improve with level.

Individual spells weren't usually quadratic. They progressed linearly; the caster itself progressed quadratically. Otherwise, you make good points.

Thankfully, they kept the swapping out a spell known each level so that you can replace the spells that become obsolete with utility spells that don't. That way you can get rid of, for example, Overheat in favour of Comprehend Languages.

bookrat wrote:
I had stated this earlier, but unfortunately my post was deleted because I responded to someone who broke the community guidelines (and apparently continues to do so).

I don't see anything against explaining myself in the Community Guidelines or the Starfinder Rules Questions Guidelines. All I did was state that I wasn't complaining about not having God-Wizards that are useless without spell slots and clarify what I meant by "removing casters."

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