Archetypes with downsides that don't gain anything in return.


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


Basically, there are archetypes that get something diminished/taken away as a class feature, but usually in turn the archetype gets some freebies or imbalanced trades on the backend to even things out (they're not technically either since you're giving up something else, but I think you all know what I mean).

But lately I've seen a stint of archetypes that have something diminished/removed but the rest of their class features all seem to be normal trades anyways.

My example (and please don't make all the comments about this one archetype) is the Kami Medium mystic. It loses the ability to channel one of its spirits and makes a second spirit extremely difficult to channel.

But the rest of its archetype is pretty much normal trades that are washes or situational downgrades/upgrades.

It's just weird. Like, the archetype wouldn't be that great if it could channel Archmage anyways.

And it's not the only one. There's a bunch of other archetypes that seem to get reduced something in exchange for very little.

Consequently, the Storyteller medium archetype is another good example of this: It gets significantly reduced spirits.. and then everything else is a pretty mediocre trade after that. Where the archetype still wouldn't be anything special even without diminished spirits.


Not all archetypes are intended for PCs, some are intended to put a spin on particular types of character but not necessarily suitable for adventurers. The principal of "turnabout is fair play" means they are available for PCs. But when you look at these with this in mind a lot of archetypes then make sense.


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But NPCs don't need these limitations since the DM can just limit himself intentionally?


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If that is true(and I am not saying it is or isn't) then it would cause less confusion if they clearly indicated whether an archetype is or is not a preferable choice for player characters.


That does make sense for some of the archetypes. The "squire" archetypes pretty obviously are junk for anything other than being an attendant and things like site-bound oracle clearly don't work for normal campaigns.

But some of them don't seem as clear cut and just feel punitive.

Dread Investigators get inspiration and Studied Combat dramatically delayed. Not even nerfed, they're the same as ever, you just get them much later (studied strike is slightly nerfed but who cares). The rest of its class features don't really stand out and even if they did... it's not a power nerf, it's just backloading your class.

Psychic Detective just loses out on three class skills. Not great class skills, but class skills nonetheless... and while Psychic Detective is a solid archetype, most of its trades are pretty 1:1 (psychic v. alchemy is a wash, saves vs psychic spells is niche and campaign dependent just like poison lore, resistance, immunity and swift alchemy and Dabbler is great, but delaying talents and extra talent hurts too).

I like these two examples because they feel needlessly punitive but also don't even end up amounting to much in the end: in both instances you basically don't lose anything of value, but it is frustrating (if you're trying to play a DI before 7 or want to tumble or climb as a PD ).

So my question then is just... why? In these two cases, losing the weakness wouldn't really change their overall power at all. In the two cases in my OP they would be power improvements, but the archetypes would still be middling at best anyways.

So what do things like these do? I don't even really see fluff justifications in most of these.

Silver Crusade

There's also all of the squire archetypes, although I can admit they're not made for PCs, at least PCs who want to play a major role in the story. Personally, most of the crafting based archetypes fall into this category as well for me, since none of them really make for great trades.

Personally, I don't feel like archetypes for NPCs need to exist, especially due to the amount of effort that goes into putting an archetype on an NPC in the first place after a certain level. NPC archetypes should be more like templates, quick and dirty adjustments rather than 'fully fleshed out' just due to the amount of rebuilding that comes with adding these archetypes.

As Wolfgang said, if you want to make an NPC archetype, give it an asterisk and put on the bottom *intended for NPCs. Personally, I like the idea of making overpowered archetypes with simple features as a way to bolster some classes like this, like an "Soldier of Determination" archetype, trade away some feature to maybe reroll all saves. Thinking about it, it seems like a fun project to work on.


For some reason someone might want one of those various archetypes a a cohort or follower for whatever it provides even if it is suboptimal?

Liberty's Edge

The intent is pretty clearly for Archetypes (with the possible exception of the squire archetypes, see below) to be balanced.

The issue comes when different people put different values on different things, mechanically speaking, or make mistakes. The Storyteller Medium is actually a great example, their spirits are weaker, but more versatile, and they get a Bardic Knowledge style bonus and Bardic Performance instead of spirit bonus, seance, and several other Medium features.

Is that a fair trade? Maybe not. Seance + Spirit Bonus is really good and on all day, while Bardic Performance isn't on constantly and they wind up looking a little weak in ancillary areas compared to an actual Bard.

Could someone have thought it was a fair trade? That's very possible. By 8th level, the Storyteller is giving the whole party +2 each to hit and damage, while the standard Medium has +3 to hit, +5 damage personally (if going Champion) but is only giving the rest of the party +2 damage. That's +2 to everyone else's attack in exchange for -1 attack and -3 damage personally. and better yet, the Storyteller can be using Archmage or Hierophant while doing this and be a 6-level caster with Haste as a 2nd level spell (the standard Medium is stuck Champion to give the party damage bonuses and receive offensive bonuses himself).

I'm not super enamored with the Storyteller and would generally just go Bard instead if taking that route, but you can see how it looks balanced when examined. Whoever wrote it almost certainly thought so. Most 'weak' archetypes are in a similar boat. Someone thought they were good. In some cases that was an error, but it's definitely the intent.

Now,the squire archetypes are a special exception intended only for 'helper' NPCs, and may not have been a super good idea in the first place. Their intent is clearly to make the character who has them worse, but somehow able to help characters of much higher level a bit better. I'm not sure they succeed at that, but that's clearly the (highly unusual) intent there.


My point is that some archetypes work much better for NPCs than for PCs and therefore have value. For instance the raging cannibal barbarian archetype is incredibly circumstantial and relies on bites for damage. However when applied to my sahaugin tribe in skull and shackles it becomes incredibly flavourful when the sahaugin sub-chief gulps down a chunk of player.

Dread investigator for instance seems purpose built for the dr Mordenheim style non-magical dabbler in the dead. This is crying out to be used on a NPC. I'm not saying it applied to every archetype, I don't spend long enough examining them, but it seems worth considering when deciding why an archetype is available.

As a player I can evaluate whether or not an archetype is worth taking. Sometimes I am more interested in replicating a style or idea of a character than how powerful the ability is.

Silver Crusade

The Sword wrote:

My point is that some archetypes work much better for NPCs than for PCs and therefore have value. For instance the raging cannibal barbarian archetype is incredibly circumstantial and relies on bites for damage. However when applied to my sahaugin tribe in skull and shackles it becomes incredibly flavourful when the sahaugin sub-chief gulps down a chunk of player.

Dread investigator for instance seems purpose built for the dr Mordenheim style non-magical dabbler in the dead. This is crying out to be used on a NPC. I'm not saying it applied to every archetype, I don't spend long enough examining them, but it seems worth considering when deciding why an archetype is available.

As a player I can evaluate whether or not an archetype is worth taking. Sometimes I am more interested in replicating a style or idea of a character than how powerful the ability is.

Can you even attempt to validate Torch Bearer Alchemist though? Or really, any of the squire archetypes, even for an NPC? And I'm saying mechanically here, an unarchetyped class can do the same things except not hand people weapons as well, and functions as a full character. The archetypes actively make them worse, and for no real reason.

Sure you may be able to tell when something is 'npc only' which is a label the game doesn't itself acknowledge, but if something is intended for NPCs only, it should be labeled as such, especially for things like dread investigator. I mean hell, for the alchemist, I have a few archetypes that are both red AND have a level requirement before they're even viable. Things like "npc abilities" is why we need guides, since not everyone can spot things like that due to a lack of familiarity with the game or just not having the time to bother looking into things, and when Dread Investigator comes up, it sounds cool and not 'npc only', effectively hurting the player for no reason.

If we're going to have NPC abilities, label them.


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I'd go a step further than N. Jolly and say that if we're going to get "NPC archetypes", they should be good for NPCs. The squire archetypes, and the others being discussed I. This thread aren't useful for NPCs, even when compared to the base classes they modify. They aren't like the actual NPC classes that count as a lower CR--the do-called NPC archetypes keep CR the same, so they shouldn't be worse for NPCs than the base classes.

Liberty's Edge

N. Jolly wrote:
If we're going to have NPC abilities, label them.

The Squire Archetypes are actually basically labeled like this in the book they're from. It's just in the lead-in paragraph rather than the archetypes themselves.

The others, I think, are (as stated) more mistakes than anyone intentionally making 'NPC only' anything.


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Try the new Super Elephant Stomper archetype!
Base Class: Any class except commoner
Abilities:
Super Elephant Stomp: At first level, the Super Elephant Stomper gains the Elephant Stomp feat, even if they do not meet the prerequisites. The Super Elephant Stomper can never lose this feat.
This ability replaces all other class features because it's just that awesome!
Reduced skill: The Super Elephant Stomper has invested so much time in learning to Elephant Stomp that they lack the time to learn many other skills. The Super Elephant Stomper gains only 2+intelligence modifier skill points per level, and their base attack bonus and base saves increase at the slow progression (as a commoner).

Clearly, this archetype is great for NPCs! It's just like being a commoner, except you get counted as a PC for CR and gear purposes. Plus, it's obviously intended for people who want a specific niche, and anyone who suggests that it isn't written perfectly or useful is wrong. Also, this archetype is just oozing with flavor. It's the weakest archetype ever written, so that automatically makes it the most flavorful. Not everything has to be an MMO archetype!


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Even if they are NPC archetypes. Why discourage PCs in such a way?

Like, I seriously want to know what about the Dread Investigator necessitates making them really unfun to play for the first seven levels. It doesn't get some other really great low level options, and in fact the two main draws of the archetype (animate dead and reanimation fluid) both don't come online until level 7 either... and again, once you hit level 7 you're basically back to normal, you don't lose any value in studied combat (or inspiration at 4). They're just delayed.

So someone at Paizo said "We should make it so no one who starts a campaign before level 7 wants to play this archetype". And everyone else in the room nodded along and agreed.

And for what? What positive impact does this (or a psychic detective losing perform, or making it impossible for a kami medium to summon the archmage and really difficult to channel the champion) have on the game?

I really do not understand. At all. Even for an NPC it doesn't make sense. Because these aren't simply bad archetypes (psychic detective is actually a nice one, dread investigator is okay if you start at 7, etc.), but simply taking things away seemingly just for the sake of taking things away.

Deadmanwalking wrote:
Is that a fair trade? Maybe not. Seance + Spirit Bonus is really good and on all day, while Bardic Performance isn't on constantly and they wind up looking a little weak in ancillary areas compared to an actual Bard.

That's the thing though. Bardic Performance for spirit bonus and séance, taboo, etc. is the trade. Maybe even a decent trade. You lose a much stronger personal buff in exchange for a weaker and more generally useful buff you can give to your team.

But then you also get reduced spirits just thrown on top of that.

Liberty's Edge

swoosh wrote:

That's the thing though. Bardic Performance for spirit bonus and séance, taboo, etc. is the trade. Maybe even a decent trade. You lose a much stronger personal buff in exchange for a weaker and more generally useful buff you can give to your team.

But then you also get reduced spirits just thrown on top of that.

What do you mean by weaker? They get less uses of Spirit Surge, but they can use it for literally anything. And he gets a bonus to Knowledge skills on top.

I'm not saying it's necessarily a good trade, but they do gain stuff in all their trades as well as lose it.


Archetypes are supposed to inspire you to build differently first, be balanced second. They are all about thematics rather than alternative design.

The Kami Medium is actually pretty strong. Immunity to dispelling is an unseen ability, even if it means gaining other weaknesses. But the best part about it is the free Improved Familiar.

Paizo Employee Designer

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The title of the thread is a good question, as well as the equally good mirrored question of archetypes that seem to gain something positive for free. If you see either of these things, it means that the archetype's trade-offs and shifts are such that, for readability and usability of the separate abilities, it made more sense to split them off rather than make them one big ability. This is better for playing the archetype but not as good for seeing where all the lines are connecting everything. A good example of this is the Chosen One paladin archetype. There are a bunch of lines connecting all the little changes in the archetype, but making everything into a big ability that connected those lines would make it much harder to read and use (the essential reason for this is that ultimately you get something at level 1 from the archetype that's quite parallel with a level 5 ability and would make a good trade-off, but stopping there means you get extras at no cost at level 1-4, and forever for a level 1-4 dip). In general, another thing to look for is if you lost or gained an ability that scales by level (or by level of spells known) in exchange for one that either doesn't scale or scales insignificantly. In the case that you lose a scaling for a non-scaling, you'll sometimes find freebies at later levels, and when you lose non-scaling for scaling, you'll sometimes find other trade-offs later on (when they are pure removals, it'll just be one list of "replaces," but when it involves alterations, the other trade-offs might be their own ability; sometimes this is added in later development passes or editing, like the "Nothing is Taboo" power that used to be just be "this replaces taboo").

The psychic detective is one mentioned (from the RPG line) where something like this isn't the case: here I believe the original turnover gained Psychic Sensitivity as a bonus feat in exchange for those more physical and less cerebral skills, a feat which it didn't need because it was psychic and gets the skill unlocks for free. However, for a skill-focused class like investigator, having those skill unlocks (many of which are quite useful for investigating) for free is a substantial benefit, so in development it was still appropriate to remove those class skills, even though the feat was unnecessary to include; offered on its own, the trade of those class skills for occult skill unlocks is a trade I'd definitely take with my investigator.


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One error that was made at the start with archetypes was the principle that "X ability replaces Y ability" and so on. It doesn't. As you have to take the whole archetype as a package, the abilities don't swap out on a 1:1 basis but as a bundle. Listing them like that is misleading and cumbersome when trying to work out which archetypes mix with others.

If one could take individual ability swaps and then mix archetypes accordingly, that would be cool. But sadly not.


It absolutely makes sense for some archetypes, and a lot of comparisons seem to focus on specific class features as good/bad trades when the whole package usually isn't as skewed.

But again, for other archetypes it doesn't seem like the extra loss is part of any grander equation, particularly for the Dread Investigator and Storyteller.

Admittedly part of my dislike of the DI is that I hate classes that take a while to fully come online and DI literally waits like half a campaign to get studied combat.

Mudfoot wrote:


If one could take individual ability swaps and then mix archetypes accordingly, that would be cool. But sadly not.

3.5 had this with ACFs. Things that replaced one class feature with another and were often actually class independent (i.e. anyone with an animal companion can replace it for X). There's up and downs for both of them, ACFs let you customize your class a lot more specifically and archetypes let designers make much more thematic products that have abilities that they might not otherwise be able to have.


Mudfoot wrote:

One error that was made at the start with archetypes was the principle that "X ability replaces Y ability" and so on. It doesn't. As you have to take the whole archetype as a package, the abilities don't swap out on a 1:1 basis but as a bundle. Listing them like that is misleading and cumbersome when trying to work out which archetypes mix with others.

If one could take individual ability swaps and then mix archetypes accordingly, that would be cool. But sadly not.

That's a power-level failsafe. Archetype creation would be severely limited if they had to take into account every single stacking possibility in mind.


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Mudfoot wrote:
If one could take individual ability swaps and then mix archetypes accordingly, that would be cool. But sadly not.

While it would mean more choice, it also means a harder time to build characters. Some players already complain about the abundance of options, and turning archetype class abilities into something close to feats would mean significantly more options.

Many players want to do their best when building a character. They feel obligated to dig through any relevant material. And if they had the choice to swap out any class feature for something else, they'd feel the obligation to examine all available alternatives.

Further, a lot of flavor gets lost when an unit like an archetype is split into much smaller units. It's easier to say 'my character is a mindchemist, an alchemist focused on mental stats' than to find a name for a mixture of four very different alchemist archetypes. This applies not only for communicating what a character is, but it also results in a diffuse image of this character in your mind. Which can end in frustration or boredom...

Paizo Employee Designer

swoosh wrote:

It absolutely makes sense for some archetypes, and a lot of comparisons seem to focus on specific class features as good/bad trades when the whole package usually isn't as skewed.

But again, for other archetypes it doesn't seem like the extra loss is part of any grander equation, particularly for the Dread Investigator and Storyteller.

Admittedly part of my dislike of the DI is that I hate classes that take a while to fully come online and DI literally waits like half a campaign to get studied combat.

Mudfoot wrote:


If one could take individual ability swaps and then mix archetypes accordingly, that would be cool. But sadly not.
3.5 had this with ACFs. Things that replaced one class feature with another and were often actually class independent (i.e. anyone with an animal companion can replace it for X). There's up and downs for both of them, ACFs let you customize your class a lot more specifically and archetypes let designers make much more thematic products that have abilities that they might not otherwise be able to have.

In the case of storyteller, all the trades used to be in one ability but were split for readability. One of the fun things about the medium (that also makes building archetypes for medium quite an adventure) is that different spirits interface with each class feature in different ways. Marshal can help everybody with spirit surge so would feel the loss of spirit surge more than anybody and it has (undeniably, since it offers the choice of the other five to everybody) the best seance boon. Similarly, champion is the only spirit whose offense depends on the spirit bonus, and they lose the most from losing spirit bonus. Due to this fact, when building for power, storyteller is not as good a choice for a medium who defaults to champion most of the time as it is for a medium who defaults to archmage, for example (in fact, knowledge of tales replaces a reasonable amount of the archmage's spirit bonus, and versatile surge makes your surge much more usable on desirable rolls than normal for an archmage, so if I wasn't going for a blasting build, which I probably wouldn't, I personally would be hard pressed not to select storyteller for a casty medium every time).

Paizo Employee Designer

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SheepishEidolon wrote:
Mudfoot wrote:
If one could take individual ability swaps and then mix archetypes accordingly, that would be cool. But sadly not.

While it would mean more choice, it also means a harder time to build characters. Some players already complain about the abundance of options, and turning archetype class abilities into something close to feats would mean significantly more options.

Many players want to do their best when building a character. They feel obligated to dig through any relevant material. And if they had the choice to swap out any class feature for something else, they'd feel the obligation to examine all available alternatives.

Further, a lot of flavor gets lost when an unit like an archetype is split into much smaller units. It's easier to say 'my character is a mindchemist, an alchemist focused on mental stats' than to find a name for a mixture of four very different alchemist archetypes. This applies not only for communicating what a character is, but it also results in a diffuse image of this character in your mind. Which can end in frustration or boredom...

This is actually an extremely insightful observation, fellow eidolon. Remember how the APG had a section all about archetypes that introduced archetypes? I sure did (or thought I did) for years until I started tracking down the exact wording for archetype intros for Occult Adventures when I became a designer, which is when I realized that it's actually called "Alternate Class Features". Archetypes have a powerful narrative hook that made them super popular, so not only did future sections (sometimes whole chapters!) gain the name "Archetypes", but also many of us (or maybe it's just me?) remembered that as the name all along.


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Sometimes I wonder if the 'It's for NPCs' reason for weak archetypes comes well after the design.


G%+~@~nit Mark stop eloquently shooting down all of my concerns. I still think storyteller loses more than it gets and should probably keep propitiation or taboo or not have diminished spirits. I suppose it's functional enough though if you're going to be bouncing between hierophant and archmage and supporting primarily with those (and likewise still don't think kami needs to lose archmage or struggle with champion even if the familiar is nice).

I don't think any argument can save the dread investigator though. Delaying a class' main gimmick to 4 and primary combat tool till 7 is just too brutal, especially considering that it comes out even in the end anyways.

Paizo Employee Designer

swoosh wrote:

G$$*+$nit Mark stop eloquently shooting down all of my concerns. I still think storyteller loses more than it gets and should probably keep propitiation or taboo or not have diminished spirits. I suppose it's functional enough though if you're going to be bouncing between hierophant and archmage and supporting primarily with those (and likewise still don't think kami needs to lose archmage or struggle with champion even if the familiar is nice).

I don't think any argument can save the dread investigator though. Delaying a class' main gimmick to 4 and primary combat tool till 7 is just too brutal, especially considering that it comes out even in the end anyways.

Hehe, I don't really consider it "shooting down" your concerns since yours is a valid perspective, and the generic form of the question you asked about abilities (good or bad) that aren't matched with something they claim to replace is an important one from a design perspective. More so, I'm just talking a bit about archetype design, which I feel is pretty mysterious overall. One thing about archetype design that's a challenge is when classes have distinct builds that ignore or get far lesser use out of certain powerful class features; generally, a designer should be looking at an archetype with an eye towards the class build that wants the benefits most or feels the loss least (for instance, if an alchemist archetype loses bombs, look at the effects of the archetype on a melee Strength mutagen alchemist build, not a bomb build), since that's who's most likely to actually take the archetype in practice.


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Empyreal Knight Paladin is a complete embarassment. They trade DIVINE GRACE for ONE LANGUAGE (basically a single skill point), and if you're thinking that he gets better stuff in the other trades, what he gets barely makes up for losing Lay On Hands and the Mercies alone, thinking that stuff should make up for Divine Grace too is complete delusion.


Entryhazard wrote:
Empyreal Knight Paladin is a complete embarassment. They trade DIVINE GRACE for ONE LANGUAGE (basically a single skill point), and if you're thinking that he gets better stuff in the other trades, what he gets barely makes up for losing Lay On Hands and the Mercies alone, thinking that stuff should make up for Divine Grace too is complete delusion.

I agree with you but keep in mind that this paladin archetype gets access to a flying mount which for martials is WAY overrated, the flying mount for a martial is worth two feats (monstrous mount and monstrous mount mastery) and that paladin gets a a very fast flying mount.

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