Common Ground

Friday, July 13, 2018

When it comes to using game rules to simulate a fantasy setting, one thing that's always been in the background in Pathfinder has been the idea that certain monsters, types of armor, and so on are more common in some areas than in others. For instance, Pathfinder First Edition's rules for the Knowledge skill rely on the fact that some monsters are more commonly known, though it doesn't really define which are which. Meanwhile, there are circumstances such as the spell Echean's excellent enclosure from Rival Guide where knowledge of a spell is closely guarded by its creator (in this case, an evil 20th-level wizard).

To make it easier for players and GMs to engage in worldbuilding, whether playing in Golarion or your own setting, we've created a formalized framework for the Pathfinder Playtest—using the categories common, uncommon, rare, and unique—that you can use to help determine the tone of a setting, region, or adventure. These are relative terms; while we list suggested rarities for various rules elements, they naturally vary from place to place even within the same campaign setting. For instance, in the playtest, a longsword is listed as common, and a katana is listed as uncommon, but in a game focused around Japanese fantasy (or, in Golarion, Minkai or Minkai-influenced nations in Tian Xia), a katana would be common and a longsword might be uncommon.

Common

Something is common if it's ubiquitous in its category, like any of the core races and core classes, longswords, fireball, bracers of armor, and the like. All characters can select common options without restriction.

Uncommon

Something is uncommon if it's a little rarer, but still possible to find or use if you are deeply interested in it. These options are a bit weirder, more complicated, or known to fewer people, so they haven't spread across the world as much. Many uncommon options explicitly become available to a character as they proceed along a path that teaches them about that option. For instance, all domain powers in the playtest are uncommon spells, but clerics are granted access to domain powers through their deities. Characters from a given region, ethnicity, religion, or other group in your world might gain access to uncommon options associated with it. To go back to our previous example, even in a game set in the Inner Sea region of Golarion, if your character hailed from Minkai in her background, you and the GM might decide that you should gain access to Eastern weapons instead of, or in addition to, Western ones.

Story events in your game are another way a character could gain access to uncommon options. For instance, Stephen previously mentioned in the blog on alchemical items that you would have to get the formula for drow sleep poison from the drow; it's an uncommon option. But in your campaign, if your alchemist was captured by the drow and forced to brew poisons for them, the GM might add drow sleep poison and other uncommon options to the formulas available to your alchemist! Uncommon options make amazing rewards to find in adventures, and they can be found at a much higher rate than rare options, since they are more common in the world.

Rare

Something is rare if it's extremely difficult to obtain without doing something special in-world to find it. This means that rare options involve interplay between the player and the GM, or are granted by the GM directly. There's no way to get access to these through choices in your character build alone. Rare options are spells known only to the ancient runelords, techniques passed down by the grandmaster of an ancient monastery in the Wall of Heaven mountains, golem-crafting secrets of the Jistka Imperium, and the like.

Unique

Something is unique if there's only one. Most artifacts are unique, as are certain monsters, like the Sandpoint Devil or Grendel. No artifacts appear in the Playtest Rulebook, so in the playtest only a few Doomsday Dawn monsters and hazards are unique.

Uses of Rarity

So how is this system useful to you?

Worldbuilding and Emulating Genres

First of all, your group can really alter the flavor and feel of the game by changing around the commonness of certain elements, allowing for a wide variety of genre play and settings through a relatively simple system. This is a big tool in your toolkit for worldbuilding. What would a world be like where the wizard was uncommon, or where all healing magic was rare? You can create a new subgenre or setting simply by shifting around the assumptions of what elements are common, uncommon, and rare. The rarities in the Playtest Rulebook are meant to show a good baseline for a typical Pathfinder campaign and make for a solid default if you're not straying to far from classic fantasy, but I can't wait until people start posting their modified schemes for all sorts of different concepts, from prehistoric to horror, and from low-magic (all magic is uncommon or rare) to super high fantasy mash-up (everything is common!).

Mechanical Diversity without Cognitive Overload

While some groups go for a kitchen sink approach to available options, many groups want to allow options from other books but are tend to stick to the core content because of the sheer mental load of learning, using, and preparing for all of those options, especially on the GM. With rarity, you have a framework for adding more material without just opening the fire hose: you start with common content (for a new group, probably the things labeled as common in the book) and you expand into mastering uncommon and rare content only as it appears in your game. If a particular rare spell hasn't shown up in the game, you don't have to worry about how it might interact with your character's build or your NPC's plot in the same way you might otherwise. A player can bring some desired uncommon or rare options to the GM, who can get a feel for the rules involved and decide when and how to introduce those options to the campaign. If the PC is interested in spells and items from ancient Osirion, perhaps the PCs find a new quest that takes them there, or is contacted by an Osirionologist NPC who's willing to trade her Osirian secrets for the PCs' help with a different adventure.

We love games with plenty of options, but we also want to consider fans who've told us that though they love new options, they started becoming overwhelmed by just how many options there are in Pathfinder First Edition. With the rarity system, you can enjoy the best of both worlds.

Awesome Rewards

One thing that can be tough in Pathfinder First Edition is giving a reward to a PC whose player has already looked up all the options and bought or crafted all the items they really want, learned all the spells they really want, and so on, even if some of those items and spells really seemed like they wouldn't be available on the open market. Rarity allows a GM to give rewards that aren't easily available without needing to homebrew a brand new item or ability every time, and allows players who gain rarer options to feel special and important.

When you emerge from a Thassilonian tomb with a rare spell few have seen in millennia, wizards' guilds might start salivating over that knowledge. Will you keep it to yourself? Will you sell it to select wizards for a pretty penny? Will you spread the knowledge to all who desire it, possibly making the spell uncommon or even common in your setting? Or will you keep it to yourself to show off for the spellcasters you meet who have never heard of it? Only you can decide, giving you the power to make a permanent mark on the setting.

So how are you most excited to use the new rarity system?

Mark Seifter
Designer

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I:^(

Sovereign Court

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

I like this concept. A lot.

As new content comes out, more powerful options can be listed as uncommon or rare, rather than just open access to everyone or making every fancy new weapon exotic. It is either too much hassle to actually use, or every caster learns the new spell as soon as possible.

Managing new content in a structured way is a good addition to the game.


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Nice. Not thrilling,but nice.

Decent to have a framework where you can easily set up expectations like that, but not a particularly interesting or enticing bit of news.

It is a good addition, but considering how few blog posts are left, just not meaty.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Seems simple enough and should help GMs communicate their setting assumptions more easily.

Will there be anything like a tech level for items to further differentiate them?


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This looks interesting. I think this is particularly useful for limiting higher level spells similar to how Spheres of Power separated basic and advanced magic talents. If it is implemented well it could be useful.

I particularly like the idea of rewarding wizards who love adding things to their spell books with uncommon or rare spells. I'm thinking something like common spells available on open market, uncommon spells requiring an organizations favor or affiliation (wizard school) and rare spells being quest rewards only. Could work for clerics or druid circles too.

Liberty's Edge

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I like it.

I presume this is also the way things like katanas are being distinguished from common weapons, with the katana being Uncommon in the Inner Sea Region?

That'd make sense and let you cover different cultures in-world just by redefining what kind of items, spells, and classes are common there. Which is very cool.


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Not something anybody expected I'd imagine, and while most won't find it all too interesting eiter, I think it's something that will be very useful to have in the long run, once post-release sourcebooks and people's own homebrew settings start rolling in, and some need to filter out the esoteric content in a meaningful way arises. My (as yet non-PF) group definitely falls in the "PF is too overwhelming content-wise" category (myself included to a large degree) so this is definitely a great framework to have.

Good on you for this one!


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I like this.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32

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I like this, but I'd add parentheses: Common (Well-Known) Since the Tarrasque is not common, but it is well known. Whereas the xtabay is common, but not well-known.


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I don't know if this is more or less work than just reading "This is what allowed" by the DM.


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It's an interesting concept, more curious to see how it plays in a campaign. It would definitely allow a GM to better gauge the power level of some things, possibly, and make a good guide-rule to keep players from just selecting everything in a new book willy-nilly (though most GMs I know have a "GM approval on all non-core things" anyway.)

Perhaps this will see more relevance in PFS play?


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I like this, but I want to know what sorcerers have to do to add an uncommon spell to their spells known. Hear about it? See someone cast it? Please don't say "be taught it."

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11 people marked this as a favorite.

One of the recent changes in my campaign setting is that resurrection spells stopped working, except in a few unique cases. Based on this blog entry, it looks like I can tag any rituals that raise the dead as a rare option and have the players easily understand what that means. That will be useful for introducing new players to my game.


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I like the addition of a rarity axis for items separate from their cost/power level. I've been a fan of it in other systems (where it's sometimes supplemented or combined with a "legality" rating). It's really fertile ground for what kinds of things (healing items, etc.) are available on short notice in a time-sensitive campaign or a frontier community or whatever.

I also really appreciate that info for monsters and the like, because while I use the "Golarion" setting, sorta, I don't really know it. It's mostly that I don't bother to change the PF flavor or I'm running a module or something. I don't know if iconic monsters from other settings I ran 15 years ago are well-known, or what's "going on" in what regions. Thinking about rarity helps me make the world more coherent without necessarily needing to read about a bunch of places not actually in the current adventure.

Sort of along these lines, will knowledge skill DC guidelines in the rules be explicitly tied to rarity, or just Challenge Rating?


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Charlie Brooks wrote:
One of the recent changes in my campaign setting is that resurrection spells stopped working, except in a few unique cases. Based on this blog entry, it looks like I can tag any rituals that raise the dead as a rare option and have the players easily understand what that means. That will be useful for introducing new players to my game.

I don't know what the difference is of "This is rare - Says the DM" and "This is Rare - says a Tag supplied by the DM".


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This is one of the few changes I unequivocally like. Good job!

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32

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MerlinCross wrote:
I don't know if this is more or less work than just reading "This is what allowed" by the DM.

I would say it's less work. If the core rules make the base assumptions of the Pathfinder setting clear, adjusting the rarity essentially gives the GM an easy dial to tweak to showcase how her setting is unique.

Making this stuff more explicit in the rulebook is also a good way of quelling protests from people who tended to gloss over the "This is Your Game" rule from the 1st edition Core Rulebook.


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Fuzzy-Wuzzy wrote:
I like this, but I want to know what sorcerers have to do to add an uncommon spell to their spells known. Hear about it? See someone cast it? Please don't say "be taught it."

Be taught it, find a scroll in a treasure hoard, spell research, pry it from the spellbook of an enemy wizard, be gifted with its knowledge by a god's icon in an abandoned temple...


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Wow I did not expect that, I will need to give it some time to sink. For now, looks like a system that could be very helpful but that it can also go horrible wrong.

Sovereign Court

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
MerlinCross wrote:
Charlie Brooks wrote:
One of the recent changes in my campaign setting is that resurrection spells stopped working, except in a few unique cases. Based on this blog entry, it looks like I can tag any rituals that raise the dead as a rare option and have the players easily understand what that means. That will be useful for introducing new players to my game.

I don't know what the difference is of "This is rare - Says the DM" and "This is Rare - says a Tag supplied by the DM".

What does rare mean? More expensive? Low chance of finding it in a shop? No chance of acquiring without grand adventure? Players can take it, but no NPCs will have it?

Words with in-game definitions help to clearly communicate your campaign assumptions.


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I really like this as a means to prevent the equivalent of "my sorcerer can know Blood Money because her spells just pop into her head when she levels up and nothing says it's not a valid choice" so I can respond with "that spell is rare" not "Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition is not a valid source for this campaign."

Shadow Lodge

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MerlinCross wrote:
I don't know what the difference is of "This is rare - Says the DM" and "This is Rare - says a Tag supplied by the DM".

Because the GM can say, "Talk to me about anything marked uncommon", or "You've just arrived in a city of ____ size, you can buy anything that costs less than X gold that is common, and there are these few uncommon items." It preempts players assuming they can purchase anything in a magic shop, which is a way I've seen some groups play.

Also, I suspect it'll work very nicely in PFS. I'm hoping for a system where you can buy anything common, and Fame helps you get into uncommon items. Rare items are for Chronicle sheets alone!


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Not flashy but seems logical. Looking at the current pathfinder 1 after this many years there is just so much stuff a person can really get lost in the woods if they are trying to hyper optimize options from hundreds of different products. Having a good standardized rule of thumb on what it is likely they can/should have access to and what is rare and what is stuff that they really should not expect to see except by adventuring is nice. I assume this will work like this for crafting and crafted recipes. It always was weird that once you got your skill high enough for the crafting stuff you could make anything out of these hundreds of books even though you likely never saw it before and probably never heard of it before in game.


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Interesting. Seems a clever and simple way for GMs to control the availability of spells and magic items, something that was sorely lacking in PF 1e. I think the only caveat is whether Paizo's basis for classification of spells and magic items will be based on impact and lore, or lore alone.

Sovereign Court

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How will spell rarity affect spontaneous spellcasters?

It works well for the wizard to be able to learn a new uncommon/rare spell by finding it, but for spontaneous spellcasters, it's a little bit more complicated/messy... will it require retraining from them?

In that case spontaneous spellcasters seems to be in a disadvantage since it will require them some downtime before being able to use that spell. While prepared casters can just add it to their repertoire and use it almost immediately.

Will sorcerers bloodlines give them access to uncommon/rare spells? After all it is powers from uncommon creatures.

I would really like to see the rules for uncommon/rare/unique spell and spontaneous spellcasters, what is the explanation behind it, etc.

Edit: Apart from that, I totally approve, and I hope the default rule will be that everything post-core rulebook is at least considered uncommon by default!


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Blood Money immediately comes to mind. With properly codified rarity their purpose will be well-defined, and will no longer be intensely problematic to introduce. I'm curious to see what's fallen on the common/uncommon side of the spectrum, particularly with regards to spells.


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I really like this idea.

Makes it so much easier to ease into GMing, by being able to limit what your players can throw at you.

I like that it gives Paizo a way to include a lot of things from PF1, without asking every new GM to understand everything from the entire PF1 line.


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Fuzzy-Wuzzy wrote:
I like this, but I want to know what sorcerers have to do to add an uncommon spell to their spells known. Hear about it? See someone cast it? Please don't say "be taught it."

Of course he has to find it in that ancient ruin and study the scroll/book because, you know, it's an innate ability. ;)

Myself I'm not sure how I feel about it. I think it might end up being a bit arbitrary, especially if you aren't following the 'built in fluff'. Even gaming out of the box a little seems like it'd cause the categories to shift wildly.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32

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MerlinCross wrote:
Charlie Brooks wrote:
One of the recent changes in my campaign setting is that resurrection spells stopped working, except in a few unique cases. Based on this blog entry, it looks like I can tag any rituals that raise the dead as a rare option and have the players easily understand what that means. That will be useful for introducing new players to my game.

I don't know what the difference is of "This is rare - Says the DM" and "This is Rare - says a Tag supplied by the DM".

I think the biggest benefit is the fact that the rulebook spells out base assumptions better. That makes it easier for everybody to understand what the rules think the setting is like and how a specific campaign might differ from it.

For example, under this system we now know that goblins are common, since they're a core race. WHile that was sort of an assumption in 1st edition, it was never really explicitly stated. So saying, "goblins are rare in this campaign" doesn't necessarily give everybody the same perspective. Under this system, switching goblins from common to uncommon gives everybody a rough assumption as to what that means in comparison with the baseline Pathfinder setting. (It also happens to be an easy "out" spelled out in the rules for people who don't like the idea of goblin PCs.)

This isn't a huge, earth-shattering change, but I think it's a way to make communication clearer and simpler, which should help to make sure everybody has the same assumptions about a setting and a campaign.


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I am conflicted.
I feel I should like this more than I do.
I know some people disapprove of the practice, but there are also many who like to know where they are going mechanically and for them this will make planning characters more challenging.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32

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I don't know if wizards get to add all core cantrips to their spellbooks anymore, but a system like this would have allowed more new cantrips to be created in 1st edition without expanding spellbooks to infinity.


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I am glad that commonality/rarity is going to be better-addressed in this edition.

Though why would golem creation be rare? Or are other constructs far more common per most measures?


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My guess for spontaneous spellcasters is that the rules for spontaneous spellcasters acquiring new spells will specify how they interact with spell rarity.

Something like "on level-up you can only learn new common spells, but you can replace a spell known with an uncommon or rare one if you have encountered it in the world".

Paizo Employee Designer

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Charlie Brooks wrote:
MerlinCross wrote:
I don't know if this is more or less work than just reading "This is what allowed" by the DM.

I would say it's less work. If the core rules make the base assumptions of the Pathfinder setting clear, adjusting the rarity essentially gives the GM an easy dial to tweak to showcase how her setting is unique.

Agreed. It is hard to believe how much having an explicit dial that's in there with examples can help out, even when it's something you could in theory always do. A lot of times, especially in something like game design where it's best for presentation to be simple in use and play, something that is an extremely valuable idea will seem like a "Well, that was obvious and easy" after the fact.

Paizo Employee Designer

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james014Aura wrote:

I am glad that commonality/rarity is going to be better-addressed in this edition.

Though why would golem creation be rare? Or are other constructs far more common per most measures?

Golem crafting would definitely not be rare, but the Jistka had secrets far beyond the basics of golemcrafting.

Dark Archive

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Seems a little arbitrary. Why can't an alchemist come up with a sleeping poison on his own? How useful are rare spells? If the rare spells are so niche that they will almost never be needed then it is not worth much other then to sell it.


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graystone wrote:
Fuzzy-Wuzzy wrote:
I like this, but I want to know what sorcerers have to do to add an uncommon spell to their spells known. Hear about it? See someone cast it? Please don't say "be taught it."

Of course he has to find it in that ancient ruin and study the scroll/book because, you know, it's an innate ability. ;)

I can see it -- however, whereas the wizards would have to study formulae and scribe it, the Sorcerer takes one look at the scroll, says, "NOW WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT?!?!?!" on some complicated 5-planar inverted thought construct, and on his next level-up, he's making it rain Tarrasques in a 100-mile radius with a 10th level spell slot. :)

...And he can still give the scroll to his arch-wizard buddy who still has to scribe it.


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james014Aura wrote:
Though why would golem creation be rare? Or are other constructs far more common per most measures?

It's not "Golem Creation" it's "the specific golem creation techniques of a lost civilization who had perfected the golem-making arts as it was a cornerstone of their civilization." Golems we make these days aren't as good as the Age of Anguish golems.


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I love this. It is very useful for when players are scanning a source for spells that does not contain any setting specific information (i.e. the PRD). They don't know that it's a dwarf only spell, or that it was created by a necromancer and is known only by a handful of people. They only know that it's listed as a spell.

Now the rarity can be listed and even without the realm specific information the player knows that it won't be easily available.

Paizo Employee Designer

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graystone wrote:
Even gaming out of the box a little seems like it'd cause the categories to shift wildly.

Maybe wildly, maybe only somewhat, it depends on how you build your world. It's a system designed for that and to facilitate doing just that, changing the categories to fit the world.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16

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Definitely a great add to the game - I'm glad this is being explicitly codified in the rules. Hopefully it will make it easier to deal with players who scour the vast amount of content and cherry pick weird combos which their PCs have no realistic way to have access to all of "just because it's a powerful combo".

I'll echo Rico's question - will rarity impact skill DC checks for knowledges?

Also, will it impact rules for item availability for purchase? The PF1 rule that items under the gp limit of a city are around 75% of the time is nice, but it would be great to have PF2's rule be more like: common items are around 90% of the time, uncommon items 50% of the time, rare items are around 5% of the time (or 0% even) for sale.

Will it impact identifying spells (could be sub-set of knowledge skill question above) or counterspelling?

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If the monsters in the Bestiary get common/uncommon/rare applied to them, I'm going to go back to using the 2-20 encounter tables I used to run with in AD&D and make my setting more sandbox-y.

Paizo Employee Designer

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Deadmanwalking wrote:

I like it.

I presume this is also the way things like katanas are being distinguished from common weapons, with the katana being Uncommon in the Inner Sea Region?

That'd make sense and let you cover different cultures in-world just by redefining what kind of items, spells, and classes are common there. Which is very cool.

Yes, this is what I meant when I said in the weapon blog that we have a different way of handling "This is still a martial weapon from a different continent" than we handle "This weapon is just better."

Paizo Employee Designer

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Charlie Brooks wrote:
If the monsters in the Bestiary get common/uncommon/rare applied to them, I'm going to go back to using the 2-20 encounter tables I used to run with in AD&D and make my setting more sandbox-y.

Supposedly, monsters had this in PF1 for Knowledge checks, we just never told you what they were beyond like goblins being very common in the example.

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dragonhunterq wrote:

I am conflicted.

I feel I should like this more than I do.
I know some people disapprove of the practice, but there are also many who like to know where they are going mechanically and for them this will make planning characters more challenging.

I was thinking a bit about this. It sounds like there should be common options from level 1-20. So fully planning a character with those options should be possible. Including uncommon options in a build means talking to your GM about your goals and interests, or in the case of PFS, planning to play thematic scenarios or possibly just choosing an appropriate backstory.


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So much yes. I've tried a few variations of this in making my own homebrew setting (these races are core/uncommon/etc. in this region), so it'll be incredibly helpful to have an established system already in the game that I can build off of. Especially if it can be consistently used in different areas (commonality of playable races, items, special materials, deity worship, spells, etc).

This is wonderful for helping to establish assumptions regarding the setting to players, and to help head off any confusion or issues where a player realizes that something isn't readily available at every store they come across (such as adamantine).

Very interested to see exactly how this ends up related to spells, especially for classes who do not learn their magic from a traditional spellbook. What types of uncommon spells could a sorcerer get from their blood? a cleric granted by their deity? a druid through their connection to nature? Hopefully this will get answered better in the actual rules and not require the GM to hobble together their own system for it.


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Mark Seifter wrote:
Maybe wildly, maybe only somewhat, it depends on how you build your world. It's a system designed for that and to facilitate doing just that, changing the categories to fit the world.

I'm definitely using this system for the setting I run so I can just shift all the "bring someone back to life" magic to rare or unique, rather than just being coy about the existence of such magic.


Mark Seifter wrote:
Deadmanwalking wrote:

I like it.

I presume this is also the way things like katanas are being distinguished from common weapons, with the katana being Uncommon in the Inner Sea Region?

That'd make sense and let you cover different cultures in-world just by redefining what kind of items, spells, and classes are common there. Which is very cool.

Yes, this is what I meant when I said in the weapon blog that we have a different way of handling "This is still a martial weapon from a different continent" than we handle "This weapon is just better."

Does/will this affect proficiency? Seems like all weapons from a Rare land would be exotic to outsiders, even if they were simply to natives.

Dark Archive

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I like it. It will help cut down on the suspense of disbelief currently required when dealing with cherry-pickers who show up to play with the exact same optimized gear gleaned from obscure sources. Rare means everyone in the party will not necessarily have a vest of x from supplement z.


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Personally I think it'll be interesting in the way it interacts with knowledge checks. I'm eager to see what is common knowledge about a monster or a type of magic, what is uncommon, what is rare, and how the dcs vary accordingly.

Of course it's also good to have some items be uncommon or rare in the setting. Once long ago a player visited a tiny village smithy and asked for a katana. It'd be easier to tell him that in that region they are uncommon, and in that village in particular they are rare.

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