Kineticist Playtest Analysis

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Hello, all! I’m Logan Bonner, Pathfinder Lead Designer and the primary designer of the kineticist. Now that we’ve finished up the class playtest, I want to cover where we’re planning to go with the class. Many of these changes are based on your survey feedback, as well as common comments we witnessed monitoring the forums and social media. This took a while, because the playtest had a big turnout. We don’t usually share these numbers, but the kineticist got exactly 1,000 survey responses, and that was too fun to keep to ourselves! (There were fewer for the open response, as is typical.)

I want to hit the main changes we’re planning to make. These aren’t necessarily the final changes, as our internal testing and number-crunching might nix some of them. Also, there are many other small changes I won’t be covering here to keep things brief(ish)—some of you dropped fun little ideas that we’ll just implement, but aren’t massively important to the bigger picture of the class.



Yoon, the iconic kineticist. Sketch by Wayne Reynolds
Yoon, the iconic kineticist. Sketch by Wayne Reynolds

Main Takeaways: Overall, the class had good ratings, but not top tier. If it went in the book as-is, it would be pretty effective and fun, but we think there’s clear room for improvement to make it a standout. Respondents vastly preferred the impulses of the playtest over expressing elemental powers as spellcasting of any kind. One common refrain though, was that damage was too low, especially on many of the overflow abilities. We were pretty conservative on the playtest, and we’ll be carefully turning some of the damage up. We’re also planning to reduce the overall number of overflow impulses while dialing up their effects, keeping the trait just for those impulses that have a major effect on the battle and feel worth spending a lot of actions to do.

Though the class is intended to be pretty focused on combat, we do have some concerns about the lack of options for kineticists during exploration, downtime, and the like. We’ll be seeing what we can do to make feel less narrow in those situations. It’s yet to be determined whether that comes in the form of more skills, some specific abilities, or a mix.

Complexity vs. Simplicity: The big challenge of this class is making it simple enough that it’s accessible and fun for a new player or a player who wants to play a character with a more straightforward playstyle. Many of the classes after the Advanced Player’s Guide have needed to be more complex to convey their concept. With the kineticist, we wanted to pull this back! Attaining the variety the class needs while not adding even more rules to remember is tricky, but rest assured we want the final class to make sense for its target audience. We did have a small number of respondents who wanted many different mechanics in the class at once (like having impulses, focus spells, cantrips, AND burn), but we’re not looking to go in that direction so that we can keep things streamlined.

Our ultimate goal is to have a class that feels extremely adept with their elements or elements. They will resemble a non-spellcaster in that they have a small set of tools they’ve very strong with, but also will resemble a spellcaster in their ability to create magical effects and straightforward focus on their impulses. It’s worth noting that, because kineticists have fewer tools, some impulses will just be stronger than comparable spells. Wings of Air from the playtest was often noted as being stronger than fly, but it’s intentional that the kineticist who is fully dedicated to mastering air is better at flying than a wizard who knows many spells and simply prepares one spell slot with a fly spell.

Lack of Clarity: One of the major problems we saw frequently was confusion over the intended role of certain parts of the class. What was meant to be important? What’s more of a side benefit? We saw this in attack rolls vs. class DC, the specialty of each element, the difference between overflow impulses and other impulses, and so on. We’re looking to streamline these for the final, to introduce bigger differences and clearer paths. For one example, multiple elements having healing abilities made it a bit muddy about what “belonged” to each element. So, for the final, expect each element to have a clearer identity while still allowing enough variety to not feel too stale.

Elemental Blast: The contrast between Elemental Blasts and other impulses touches on the lack of clarity too. After seeing feedback, we’re looking at switching it to function similarly to other impulses and act more like an attack cantrip. This will likely require something similar to a spell attack roll, letting you use your Constitution for it. This has several benefits: it should let us simplify how it works, make Con clearly the best choice for your top ability score, free up kineticist characters’ ability boosts for a wider variety of characters, and still allow upgrades to the blast. This does leave some challenges, especially around a kineticist’s item loadout.

We intend to move any “use your element as a weapon” options into the Elemental Weapon feat so that still remains as an option—especially for melee kineticists. The final form of the Elemental Blast is still to be decided, since it relies on a lot of other moving parts, but we intend to keep it as a versatile option with some variety between the elements.

There was plenty of disagreement among playtesters about whether the class should be primarily a single-target damage dealer or be built around more varied effects. Much of this had to do with whether the player believed the Elemental Blast or the other impulses were the core mechanic of the class. Going all-in on single-target blasts can lead to extremely stagnant, repetitive play, so we aren’t planning to make that the sole focus. However, we will be exploring what room we have for boosting single-target damage as an option for those who want it, without making that the only role the class can fill.

Constitution?: The survey asked whether people preferred Constitution or a mental score for class DC. Though the responses wanting a mental score were quite low, there were a significant number of write-in responses that liked Con but also wanted it to be more important to the class. Looking at the issue and the target audience of the class, we’re planning to make Constitution matter a bit more so it’s the clear choice for your top ability score. This should allow more flexibility in other scores and open up a broader array of character concepts.

The change to Elemental Blast noted above is linked to this. We might also use Constitution for damage on some impulses or in certain circumstances.

Gates: We had a mixed bag of feedback about the gate options (dedicated gate, dual gate, and universal gate). Taking it as a whole, we’re currently leaning toward having a dedicated gate or dual gate option at 1st level, with class feature later on that let a kineticist either further specialize in an element they can channel or to expand to a new element. Universal gate had issues at low levels because it felt like the best option in some ways, but was also limited too severely by a small number of impulses. We think the new version will enable a story of a kineticist developing their elemental breadth over time in a more organic way, rather than locking them in tightly at level 1 with nowhere to grow.

Gathering your Element: Many playtesters noted that Gathering an Element felt like an action tax. Lots of folks equated it with drawing a weapon, which was the intended equivalent, but many people really wanted it to be more exciting, like the actions a swashbuckler can use to gain panache. There were also some mentions that it could be too much bookkeeping to track multiple elements for dual gate and universal gate—easy to forget which one you currently have gathered. The current plan for this part of kineticist play is to replace gathering an element with a process that serves a similar rules function, but has a theme that’s a bit more fun and fits the kineticist’s presentation a bit better.

Our current thinking is to have the kineticist surrounded with their kinetic aura at all times, letting their elements swirl around them. The aura doesn’t have any effect on its own—it’s just for show—though dedicated gate kineticists might get a minor benefit. To use an impulse, the kineticist directs the flowing elements with a free hand. Overflow impulses exhaust the aura, similar to expending a gathered element in the playtest. It would then take a single action to cause a resurgence from your inner gate, also granting an added benefit. This might be using a kinetic aura impulse to alter the effect of the aura, making an Elemental Blast, or a specific benefit related to an element. The final form will depend on the complexity of the other options in the class. We think this will be easier to understand, link better to other abilities within the class, and better tell the class’s story.

Manipulate Trait: There was a lot of conversation about the manipulate trait triggering Attacks of Opportunity and putting the melee kineticist in danger. This isn’t a factor in most combats, but in combats against many monsters with Attack of Opportunity, it’ll get you dead in a hurry! The discussions about this reinforced that the inclusion of concentrate and manipulate on all impulses was carried forward from how spells work... and these aren’t supposed to be just like spells! So, it’s likely the final impulses will still include concentrate, but manipulate will only appear on impulses where it’s essential to the action taking place in the story.

Burn: Burn was a hot topic, as expected! Survey feedback found that using impulses and gathering elements came out ahead, even when we combined burn and the “other” survey choice. There were plenty of votes for burn and for “other,” though, so it was far from a blowout. Fundamentally, we’re aiming at the “nonstop magic” fantasy for this class—the kineticist isn’t meant to be about long-term resource management. That means burn has to clear a pretty high bar to be included, since it pulls the class into relying more on resource management and limited-use abilities. Most suggestions we’ve seen so far for including a burn-type mechanic lead to the class feeling either too heavy on long-term planning, or too repetitive or exploitable. We’ll continue looking at possibilities as we work on the final version. It’s possible there might be a niche for implementing burn as an option for those interested, provided we find a way to make it dynamic.

More Stuff... and Less Stuff: The kineticist is a very big class, as we want each element to feel fun and distinct, and keeping it within the book’s page count is pretty difficult. As we add more elements to the class for the final version, there’s a high likelihood we’ll have to condense and trim back some other options. We’re aiming to condense down some of the overly complex bits rather than chopping whole impulses, but we might end up between a rock and a hard place, so be forewarned!


Initial Playtest and Design

We did a bit of a different process for the kineticist class design, as mentioned when I talked about James Case’s prototype kineticist character. That was part of an early playtest with the design team, Solomon St. John, and Shay Snow. Each designer made a single kineticist character. Not a list of feats, proficiencies, and all that—just the most basic playable character possible. Jason Bulmahn GMed a short adventure, and we tried out many different takes on the class! This hearkens back to the very first days of 2nd edition design, when we did something similar with a cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard based on some basic benchmarks.

How about another peek behind the curtain? Here are the elemental webs showing the strengths of the various elements. This was for the playtest version, so you’ll see some big alterations for the final as we differentiate the elements more, as mentioned above. Metal and wood were purely speculative! We didn’t write any impulses for those before the playtest.

Category Air Earth Fire Metal Water Wood Sum
Creation 2 3 3 3 3 4 18
Healing 2 2 1 1 2 3 11
Defense 1 4 2 3 2 3 15
Mobility 4 1 2 2 3 1 13
Destruction 2 3 4 3 2 2 16
Trickery 3 1 2 2 2 1 11
14 14 14 14 14 14

Kineticist Element Webs showing off the different strengths of the elements  An infographic consisting of a traditional table and several web diagrams indicating the different strengths of the elements to a kineticist


Not a Wish, Merely a Request

We’ve mentioned the inclusion of the elemental Plane of Metal and Plane of Wood. In sympathy for all this time you’ve had to spend with air, earth, fire, and water, how about a preview item from one of these elements? Enjoy a look at the damaj’s gloves, and see what you can suss out about the element, plane, and book from the multiple references in this stat block!

Damaj’s Gloves — Item 13

Evocation, Invested, Magical, Metal
Price 3,000 gp
Usage worn gloves; Bulk

This elaborate metallic webbing feels soft when wrapped around your hands and forearms. It constantly shifts its strands and connections. The name of a zuhra damaj is etched in Talican on the only part of the item that is unchanging. You gain a +3 item bonus to your Reflex DC against attempts to Disarm an item you’re holding in your hands.

Activate [two-actions] command, Interact; Frequency once per day; Requirements You’re wielding a weapon made primarily of metal; Effect You extend the weapon and call out the zuhra’s name. It channels its magic through the gloves to assist you with its choice of offense or defense (as determined by the GM). The zuhra makes any choices for the spell, and any save DC is 30.

Offense The metal of the gloves wraps around your weapon and channels the zuhra’s magic to cast a 6th-level weapon storm spell, replicating the metal weapon.

Defense The metal flows off your arms, creating a blade barrier. The blades have the appearance of your weapon. You lose the damaj’s gloves’ item bonus until the barrier ends, at which point the metal returns to your hands and forearms. You can Dismiss the activation.

The Elements of Style

As I close up this article, I’d like to throw a fond salute to our incredible corps of authors!

Rage of Elements was written by Logan Bonner, James Case, Jessica Catalan, Andrew D. Geels, Sen H.H.S., Patrick Hurley, Jason Keeley, Luis Loza, Mark Moreland, Jonathan Morgantini, AJ Neuro, Jessica Redekop, Solomon St. John, Mark Seifter, Shahreena Shahrani, Shay Snow, Levi Steadman, Mari Tokuda, Ruvaid Virk, Andrew White, and Linda Zayas-Palmer!


As I pop into a portal to transport myself to some plane beyond human ken, I want to tell you all how much we appreciate your playtesting and element slinging! There will be plenty more to explore in Rage of Elements!

Logan Bonner
Pathfinder Lead Designer

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I want a blast that is loaves of bread


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Unicore wrote:
I want a blast that is loaves of bread

I see no reason the phytokineticist shouldn't be able to bludgeon you with grain...


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PossibleCabbage wrote:
Unicore wrote:
I want a blast that is loaves of bread
I see no reason the phytokineticist shouldn't be able to bludgeon you with grain...

Tragic. Another element relying on bludgeoning. Why can't we just give people bread energy?! They are made of carbs! LITERALLY ENERGY!


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Saedar wrote:
PossibleCabbage wrote:
Unicore wrote:
I want a blast that is loaves of bread
I see no reason the phytokineticist shouldn't be able to bludgeon you with grain...
Tragic. Another element relying on bludgeoning. Why can't we just give people bread energy?! They are made of carbs! LITERALLY ENERGY!

"I didn't say I wanted to make peace... I said I wanted to break bread with my enemies..."


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Let's just say that when you're up against this type of fusion kineticist, flames are the yeast of your concern.


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I think the key here is that it's not "create physical thing", it's "generate a creation effect" so... wings of fire, pillars of fire, walls of fire, and friendly burning suns all might qualify, even if they'll wink out as soon as you stop maintaining them.

(Admittedly, wings of fire would probably be a movement effect instead.)


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I'm glad most of the points of concern that I personally was concerned about was brought up. I hope the next one goes well!

I think the biggest thing I'm worried about is the single gate kineticist. I really hope you guys bump up what they can do and their strengths if someone wants to pursue a single element, because one of the strongest things you could ever have is versatility, and a single element kinet is losing out on that by trying to do that. This is particularly obvious when you look at certain feats, that give you multiple options depending on what elements you have, this means that effectively one feat is "worth" 2 for someone with 2 elements, and more when you get more.

Something like making people that focus on a single element actually more reliable to blast through resistances, and giving them more boons in general, etc etc... Especially the resistances/immunity thing tbh, fire focused characters are such a popular trope, but every system ever has always done their best to block it with an army of fire resistances and immunities, so I hope this might be the one that actually bucks that trend and lets those folk exist more comfortably.


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Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

As I recalled, my suggestion in the playtest was that there be a low level feat (I think I suggested 2nd level) that allowed the Kineticist to pick an alternate\versatile damage for their blasts so that they could choose swap their physical damage out for an elemental one.

Yes I intertidally suggested it being something higher than a 1st level feat. However, I also indicated that as a way to 'enable' the concept of a single element non-physical kineticist I suggested that one choice of benefit that a single gate kineticist would start with would be the ability to start with that 2nd level feat as a bonus feat at first level. (I also imagined a fire kineticist having the option of choosing versatile Bludgeoning if the wanted with this ability)

So you want a Acid thrower, you could do it even starting at 1st level if you choose that. However, on the other hand you wouldn't be able to start out first level tossing around multiple elements as pure elemental damage.

At first I had had an issue thinking about how it seemed unfair that fire got elemental damage and the other didn't. However, the more I thought about it, fire has always been the easiest energy to produce damage via mundane means... be it torch, flaming oil, alchemist fire, all as simple mundane examples. I realized that explained to me how fire made sense to be the easiest element to have produce elemental damage from the start. (making physical choice a future potential investment option) The others I saw as being options to move into elemental energy damages, but had reasonable concepts for doing physical damage as their entry damage.

Honestly I wouldn't have the problem with there being a feat tree where first feat you gain one alternate (normally) elemental damage type associated with an element you have access to, with an association level equal to or less than you level. Higher feat level have the lower as a prerequisiste, but increas teh number of additional damage choices you get to select, and your level effects all your choices, not just the additional one. Also as I imagine it, if you have chosen an alternate damage from the list below, you can replace swap it on your elemental blast for any element you have that you have the appropriate listed level. So if you have chosen Piercing as your alternate, and you have both water and earth, you could replace either your Water or Earth blasts damage as piercing.

So you could have:

Bludgeoning: Fire(2nd)-Concussion
Piercing: Water(10th)-Ice Shards; Earth(10th)-Rock Shards
Electricity: Air(2nd)-Ionic Movement; Fire(10th)-Plasma
Radiation: Fire(18th)-Solar emanation; Metal(18th)-Radioactive elements
Sonic: Air(10th)-Rapid Vibration
Cold: Water(2nd)-Ice; Air(18th)-Vacuum/Pressure loss
Fire: Water(18th)-Steam
Acid: Earth(2nd)-desolidification/disintegration
Piercing w/silver: Metal(2nd)-Silvering
Piercing w/cold iron: Metal(2nd)-Ironed
Piercing w/penetrating*: Metal (10th)-HyperHardened
Poison: Wood(2nd)-Poisonous sap/resin

Penetrating*: treat hardness of items whose hardness less than the Kineticists level as having half their normal hardness.

Looking from the other direction:
Fire:
2nd (Bludgeoning) i.e. Concussions
10th (Electricity) i.e. Plasma
18th (Radiation) i.e. Solar

Air:
2nd (Electricity) i.e. ionic movement
10th (Sonic) i.e. rapid movement
18th (Cold) i.e. vacuum/pressure loss

Water:
2nd (Cold) i.e. Chill
10th (Piercing) i.e. Shards
18th (Fire) i.e. Steam

Earth:
2nd (Acid) i.e. desolidification/disintegration
10th (

Metal:
2nd (Piercing w/Cold Iron) or (Piercing w/Cold Iron)
10th (piercing w/penetrating*)
18th (Radiation) Radioactive elements

Wood:
2nd (Poison)

My above example I just used 2/10/18 as levels to associate things, I honestly feel like piercing for water and earth should be available at a lower level, as I think they aren't that powerful of choices, but they make sense to exist. The above is primarily to help give an idea/picture of the framework. I think that the variety/number of different alternate damage types, and the levels they show up as available would help to provide 'control/balancing' knobs to help balance the different elements as choices.

And again, my suggestion is that single gate Kineticists would have the option to pick the alternate damage feat at first level and choose a single 2nd level damage type, even at 1st level.


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PossibleCabbage wrote:
Unicore wrote:
I want a blast that is loaves of bread
I see no reason the phytokineticist shouldn't be able to bludgeon you with grain...

Amber wave(motion cannon)s of grain?

Now I'm imagining a wood/water kineticist of Cayden Caylean who beats people up with grain and beer.


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Sizz Brightscale the fire kobold is patiently waiting to see what his updated mechanics look like......wake him up in late June or early July.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

This wait is brutal. Still probably around five more months until we start seeing some previews (hopefully paizocon in may will show some hints as to the final product)... Not sure if I'm going to make it


Coming back to this, I'm a little surprised to see Healing so low on Fire; between the idea of cleansing/purifying flame being so ubiquitous and the curative properties of charcoal, I suppose I expected the option of a Fire support character to exist.


It makes sense considering healing was originally just water and posite energy, while fire had a "cleanse debuff" and "phoenix revive".

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