Using Path of War as a general fix to martial / caster disparity issues


Homebrew and House Rules

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

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One of the things I see suggested a lot is using the Path of War classes and materials from Dreamscarred Press as a solution to martial/caster disparity, something I actually like, but which always felt like it had some issues - what if I don't want to play a Path of War class? What if I have one guy who wants to play a Fighter, and another who wants to play a Warder? Aren't they going to be imbalanced to each other since the Warder is designed as a Fighter fix?

So, I wrote up this little (completely unofficial) homebrew option, Spark of Battle, that provides rules and options for grafting the Path of War disciplines and combat system directly into your campaign world, making martial maneuvers universally available, but with diminishing returns for classes that have access to spellcasting, essentially creating a situation where the more magic you have, the less initiating will be available to you, to the point where classes like the wizard and sorcerer stop having access to maneuvers entirely as their more powerful spells come online.

The rules build off a combination of the initiating system in Path of War and the Stamina system first presented in Pathfinder Unchained, and have multiple options for implementation, including a more dynamic die roll based system that allows you to "spark" and learn a new maneuver in the heat of combat, and an experience based progression that allows you to learn maneuvers between levels, allowing you to spread the fun of leveling up and increasing in power out over the course of the entire level.

Hopefully this is something you all can have fun with!


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For months I've been whining about using stamina as a baseline for making third party material work for martials or using stamina for maneuver-like abilities, so you know I'm on board. I'll take a look.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

Malwing wrote:
For months I've been whining about using stamina as a baseline for making third party material work for martials or using stamina for maneuver-like abilities, so you know I'm on board. I'll take a look.

Thanks! Your own stamina based system was part of what got me thinking about how I'd want to implement something like that :)

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You realize there's feats that let anyone learn maneuvers? Any class with combat feats can pick them up easily. It's also worth noting that Path of War classes don't get very many bonus feats, so it kind of evens out. The monk in my campaign is using Broken Blade.

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Cyrad wrote:
You realize there's feats that let anyone learn maneuvers? Any class with combat feats can pick them up easily. It's also worth noting that Path of War classes don't get very many bonus feats, so it kind of evens out. The monk in my campaign is using Broken Blade.

Actually, all of the main Path of War classes have the ability to select between 4 and 6 bonus feats, in addition to a selection of great class features and martial initiation. Plus, the only person those feats really help is the Fighter with his plethora of feats, and then only on a limited basis since the Martial Training and related feats are so narrow in scope. I don't think anyone would be able to really argue that the Warder or Warlord's class features are just as good as the Fighter, Rogue, or Monk's, and then they get initiating on top of it. Since the Fighter's class features are feats, he still ends up at a substantial net loss compared to a true initiating class by trying to make up the difference via the Martial Training feats. The feats are a "dip your toe" option as opposed to a "dive in head first" option, and one already accounted for in the write-up.

Magic is absolutely ubiquitous in the world that Pathfinder is designed to occupy, so the system just says "What if martial prowess was equally as common?"

The whole premise of martial/caster disparity is that martials are working at a net deficit. An option like the Martial Training feats that just shifts things around can't, inherently, truly address that deficit if the cost is current resources, so the Spark of Battle homebrew I wrote up is a strict upgrade to non-initiating martial classes (and is described as such).


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Personally I too feel like the maneuver training feats in Path of War were too narrow. Granted they are as powerful as a feat could be, maybe more but it shows how weak feats can be. Also I feel like only the fighter really benefits. I know the monk gets bonus feats but his list is terrible.

@Ssalarn, have you checked out Book of Martial action from Necromancer's of the Northwest?

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

Malwing wrote:

Personally I too feel like the maneuver training feats in Path of War were too narrow. Granted they are as powerful as a feat could be, maybe more but it shows how weak feats can be. Also I feel like only the fighter really benefits. I know the monk gets bonus feats but his list is terrible.

@Ssalarn, have you checked out Book of Martial action from Necromancer's of the Northwest?

I have not. It's pretty good?


Malwing wrote:
For months I've been whining about using stamina as a baseline for making third party material work for martials or using stamina for maneuver-like abilities, so you know I'm on board. I'll take a look.

It is honestly surprising that Stamina has been so underutilized. Stamina seems like such a fair system!

As for Martial Training? My favorite use for that feat line is just taking Martial Training I and II for some quick utility maneuvers and a stance that is effective at all levels. For instance, Broken Blade, Thrashing Dragon, and Silver Crane are ridiculous bargains. Silver Crane especially, since its 2 feats to get 2 maneuvers readied, +4 initiative, +2 to reflex saves, and +2 AC. However, for anything more than grabbing a few maneuvers from the easily dipped disciplines, I have found Martial Training to be very draining of the limited feat resources of players.

Spark of Battle seems like a cool and very fun way of introducing initiating on everyone at a less silly feat cost.


Ssalarn wrote:
Malwing wrote:

Personally I too feel like the maneuver training feats in Path of War were too narrow. Granted they are as powerful as a feat could be, maybe more but it shows how weak feats can be. Also I feel like only the fighter really benefits. I know the monk gets bonus feats but his list is terrible.

@Ssalarn, have you checked out Book of Martial action from Necromancer's of the Northwest?

I have not. It's pretty good?

It and it's sequel are basically maneuver-like feats that use a resource almost identical to Stamina. Its nowhere near as far-reaching as Path of War, or Sparking but I've been using it for a while to great effect and when when Stamina came out I merged it with the martial pool and gave it to Fighters for free. For Fighters I tend to like it better than Path of War's maneuver feats because I felt like normal martials should be spontaneous rather than 'prepared' like the Path of War classes.

I do have criticisms of it. Because martial/stamina pools refresh so fast the costs are super high. The costs could easily be half as much for what they are. Also, as I said before, they scope is fairly low, mostly giving martials interesting things to do but without going as far as Path of War with things like healing and teleportation.


Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

The only issue that I see is that a wizard can try to hit two Veiled Moon maneuvers early, then take the stance feat to get Stance of the Ether Gate at level 9.

Other than that, though, I like the rules. I'm not sure how I feel about any class being able to get more than 2 of a maneuver in a certain level without much trouble, though - since even most initiators are limited by their maneuver learning progression unless if they spend feats on it.

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Felyndiira wrote:

The only issue that I see is that a wizard can try to hit two Veiled Moon maneuvers early, then take the stance feat to get Stance of the Ether Gate at level 9.

Said Wizard would only have a BAB of +4, and thus an effective veilweaver level of 4, meaning he couldn't qualify for Stance of the Ether Gate since it requires a minimum initiator level of 9. I guess Advanced Study could be read in a way that makes things a little hinky... I'll add it to the Martial Training line as a feat you can't access if you're using the sparking system, just to avoid confusion.


Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Ah, I missed the BAB=IL line. It's still a pretty nice buff for Clerics and 3/4 BAB casters despite the INT penalty, especially since Pounce is only a level 2 maneuver.

I'm guessing that the maximum spell levels for Sphere of Power would count as 0.25/class level for martial-casters; 0.33/class level for partial casters; and 0.5/level for full casters (capped at 9). I'm not sure how classes like Aegis fits into this, though, since they can function as mini-casters by storing power stones.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

Felyndiira wrote:

Ah, I missed the BAB=IL line. It's still a pretty nice buff for Clerics and 3/4 BAB casters despite the INT penalty, especially since Pounce is only a level 2 maneuver.

I'm guessing that the maximum spell levels for Sphere of Power would count as 0.25/class level for martial-casters; 0.33/class level for partial casters; and 0.5/level for full casters (capped at 9). I'm not sure how classes like Aegis fits into this, though, since they can function as mini-casters by storing power stones.

Yeah, that's the same formula I'd use for SoP characters. The Aegis is kind of an odd duck since he's a manifester-but-not-really, so I was mostly just pretending that his power stones are like really good wands and ignoring them for the time being.


Hey Ssalarn,
Why does the initiation modifier have to be intelligence? Wouldn't you want something like this to be more modular so that characters of different sorts would be easier to make?

I like the idea, I'm just not sure why a charming fighter would be out of the question.

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Ssalarn wrote:
Cyrad wrote:
You realize there's feats that let anyone learn maneuvers? Any class with combat feats can pick them up easily. It's also worth noting that Path of War classes don't get very many bonus feats, so it kind of evens out. The monk in my campaign is using Broken Blade.
Actually, all of the main Path of War classes have the ability to select between 4 and 6 bonus feats

The warlord gets a feat at 1st, 6th, and every 4 levels after. The warder gets a feat at 3rd level and every 5 levels after. Most non-spellcasting martials get a feat every 3 or 4 levels.

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Trogdar wrote:

Hey Ssalarn,

Why does the initiation modifier have to be intelligence? Wouldn't you want something like this to be more modular so that characters of different sorts would be easier to make?

I like the idea, I'm just not sure why a charming fighter would be out of the question.

It doesn't really I suppose. It was more for simplicity's sake than anything. I'll look at adding some verbage for selecting your initiation modifier similar to the way an Incanter in Spheres of Power can select his casting modifier.


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You know what I think would make a great Sparketype? (No seriously guys, they are called Sparketypes in the document)

A rogue! They are supposed to already be "the skill guy," and you can spark off skill rolls. I think Rogues deserve an archetype in here focused on getting those skill sparks more often. Probably want to reward them for those natural 20s on Disable Device as well. Thankfully Stealth, Sleight of Hand, and Perception all have excellent disciplines tied to them.

Anyone else think another class deserves a sparketype?


Not a fan. Basing this kind of character development on random chance is goofy and plays against level-based characters, while encouraging people to make lots of rolls that otherwise wouldn't matter- like taking lots of swings against target dummies or rolling skill checks that are otherwise meaningless. The only way to stop that kind of effect is GM fiat... which is usually a sign the system is broken to begin with. It also comes with some weird problems like haste and Two Weapon Fighting making you learn maneuvers more often. The variant rule reduces these issues, but not any of the other problems.

Needing to pick new maneuvers in the middle of a fight bogs down combat unnecessarily, and inserting the effects of maneuvers into the middle of attack routines is going to cause some really bizarre situations (like receiving a Full Attack maneuver on your last attack).

Keying your resource and recovery method on Constitution screws over characters that don't have a Con score (like people playing vampires or other undead) or that have a class that de-emphasizes its importance, like paladins.

None of this pays any heed to class balance, either, making it fairly easy for already powerful classes like wizards and clerics to pick up whatever maneuvers they want at low costs (especially using abilities and items that can modify d20 rolls), and handing out mixed groups of scaling-level maneuvers for a single feat. I can't really see any benefit to this system that couldn't be derived with less hassle and problems by using Martial Training feats or actual initiating classes in your games. The classes initiators overshadow (monks, rogues, and fighters) aren't really worth wasting any time trying to salvage anyway.

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Minor point here. Undead use their Charisma in place of Constitution for everything, even abilities keyed from their classes.


This system is slow because of many rolls needed, stops combat flow (and Pathfinder isn't exactly an very fast game) and the randomness just deal a final blow to make it not good at all.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

Metal Sonic wrote:
This system is slow because of many rolls needed, stops combat flow (and Pathfinder isn't exactly an very fast game) and the randomness just deal a final blow to make it not good at all.

It actually doesn't add much more rolling than you would do otherwise, since you're replacing the critical hit confirmation you would make anyways with a spark roll. Same amount of dice rolled, different effect.

If you don't like the randomness, that's why there's an option to gain maneuvers at certain experience points with no roll at all.

It's a tool for GMs to rebalance their game against martial/caster disparity, and it has enough variations that it doesn't have to add any table time if you don't want it to. For other people, it can provide a dynamic twist to combat similar to that provided by something like the Critical Hit Deck.

@Aratrok

Actually, the system self balances against classes like the Wizard and Cleric, who both take penalties to their ability to spark and who have a substantially smaller pool of maneuvers available, to the point that they end up locked out of maneuvers completely.
Selecting new maneuvers is something that should be done during down time- the way we use it, you put together a small stack of note cards with maneuvers you may potentially want already written out, then you just select from that stack when you actually spark.
Also, just because you feel the Fighter, Rogue, and Monk are a waste, doesn't mean everyone does, particularly since the system can tie into Unchained which is pretty popular right now.

@Trogdar

I tweaked the system per your suggestion, allowing characters who spark to choose their martial initiation modifier when they first spark and then locking the choice in.


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I wanna say good call, but it seems vaguely self serving.;)

Regardless, thanks Ssalarn!


Cyrad wrote:
Minor point here. Undead use their Charisma in place of Constitution for everything, even abilities keyed from their classes.

Undead are so hot.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

Malwing wrote:
Cyrad wrote:
Minor point here. Undead use their Charisma in place of Constitution for everything, even abilities keyed from their classes.
Undead are so hot.

That instantly reminded me of this scene.

Also, I added an author's note recommending that you preselect a number of maneuvers and have them readied on note cards for when your character sparks to keep from slowing down game play. It's one of those things that I, personally, would do anyways, the same way I prep summon monster cards or a brawler's martial flexibility feats, but it seemed like a smart pro tip to share.


I do want to say that I am happy that you, Ssalarn, are doing something. We see countless threads about martial disparity and constant reiteration about exactly what the problem is and why but very rarely does anyone actually DO something about it, and better yet use the obvious resources we have at hand to do something about it.

Also I like the 'special' subsections that let you get more use out of these maneuvers with stamina. So far I think the wording only lets you spend one extra stamina but I have to ask if they are meant to only be boosted once or can you 'nova' your stamina out on a single maneuver.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

Malwing wrote:

I do want to say that I am happy that you, Ssalarn, are doing something. We see countless threads about martial disparity and constant reiteration about exactly what the problem is and why but very rarely does anyone actually DO something about it, and better yet use the obvious resources we have at hand to do something about it.

Also I like the 'special' subsections that let you get more use out of these maneuvers with stamina. So far I think the wording only lets you spend one extra stamina but I have to ask if they are meant to only be boosted once or can you 'nova' your stamina out on a single maneuver.

Currently, I only intended for them to be boosted once by spending additional stamina. I'm open to playing with that more though.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

Malwing wrote:

I do want to say that I am happy that you, Ssalarn, are doing something. We see countless threads about martial disparity and constant reiteration about exactly what the problem is and why but very rarely does anyone actually DO something about it, and better yet use the obvious resources we have at hand to do something about it.

Also I like the 'special' subsections that let you get more use out of these maneuvers with stamina. So far I think the wording only lets you spend one extra stamina but I have to ask if they are meant to only be boosted once or can you 'nova' your stamina out on a single maneuver.

Currently, I only intended for them to be boosted once by spending additional stamina. I'm open to playing with that more though if that's something people would be interested in.


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Just wanted to chime in and say I absolutely love this idea. I've been wracking my brain to come up with better uses for Stamina, and this nails it. It also lets you play a competent initiator while retaining familiar classes and not having to play Mr. Shield Tank, Leader Guy, or Other Rogue (not that those classes aren't great on their own!). I may have to tweak it a bit in regards to things like BAB = IL, but otherwise I think I'll definitely be using this.

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Taperat wrote:
Just wanted to chime in and say I absolutely love this idea. I've been wracking my brain to come up with better uses for Stamina, and this nails it. It also lets you play a competent initiator while retaining familiar classes and not having to play Mr. Shield Tank, Leader Guy, or Other Rogue (not that those classes aren't great on their own!). I may have to tweak it a bit in regards to things like BAB = IL, but otherwise I think I'll definitely be using this.

Yeah, I was actually talking to a friend about how a class like the Rogue should probably get full initiation, but then a class like the Investigator really shouldn't, so it's easier to have a hard and fast rule that a GM can use as a guideline and then tweak as they see fit.

Also, I'm glad you liked it! I've actually had quite a few people mention how they like the idea of martial maneuvers and initiation but either don't like the PW classes, or would prefer to play something that doesn't really fit the fluff/mechanics of the PW options, so this was kind of my attempt to address that and provide a framework that can be universally applied and which auto-balances against spellcasting.


I probally will remove the offensive talents of the Rogue (like Underhanded) and just go full Initiator on them.

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Metal Sonic wrote:
I probally will remove the offensive talents of the Rogue (like Underhanded) and just go full Initiator on them.

Since the Rogue is short 5 BAB for full initiation under the system, I was figuring when I had the time I'd do a quick archetype for him that traded the Talents gained at 2,6,10,14, and 18 and granted full initiation, plus maybe a couple little perks related to sparking with skills (assuming you go with the reactive version and not the XP based one).


Ssalarn wrote:
Since the Rogue is short 5 BAB for full initiation under the system, I was figuring when I had the time I'd do a quick archetype for him that traded the Talents gained at 2,6,10,14, and 18 and granted full initiation, plus maybe a couple little perks related to sparking with skills (assuming you go with the reactive version and not the XP based one).

This sounds like a cool idea

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

Went ahead and added a Rogue archetype. It's just kind of thrown together at the moment, but it's there!


Ssalarn wrote:
Since the Rogue is short 5 BAB for full initiation under the system, I was figuring when I had the time I'd do a quick archetype for him that traded the Talents gained at 2,6,10,14, and 18 and granted full initiation, plus maybe a couple little perks related to sparking with skills (assuming you go with the reactive version and not the XP based one).

Well, I didn't read too much about PoW, but in ToB the Swordsage have 3/4 BAB and still is a full Initiator.

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Metal Sonic wrote:
Ssalarn wrote:
Since the Rogue is short 5 BAB for full initiation under the system, I was figuring when I had the time I'd do a quick archetype for him that traded the Talents gained at 2,6,10,14, and 18 and granted full initiation, plus maybe a couple little perks related to sparking with skills (assuming you go with the reactive version and not the XP based one).
Well, I didn't read too much about PoW, but in ToB the Swordsage have 3/4 BAB and still is a full Initiator.

Yeah, it's why I added the Rogue archetype. He's in a kind of awkward place that the spark rules didn't cover well due to being a martial with 3/4 BAB and no spellcasting.


Dot for great interest.


I like the initiating from a point-pool, though the sparking itself seems an unnecessary hurdle. When you're using the experience based version, at that point one might as well just gain 3 maneuvers at level-up (a lot of games don't even use XP anymore)

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

Threeshades wrote:
I like the initiating from a point-pool, though the sparking itself seems an unnecessary hurdle. When you're using the experience based version, at that point one might as well just gain 3 maneuvers at level-up (a lot of games don't even use XP anymore)

The in combat sparking was more a way to liven the game up, kind of like the Critical Hit deck. If you don't use XP, you can still do "check point" acquisition at roughly the same points. This is written as a GM tool first and a player tool second, so there's a lot of flexibility on how you can implement it.

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