Spheres of Power; What's the Big Deal?


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Because there's probably something unusual in your games if Spherecasters are dominating them? They have generally linear power growth - they're probably better than classes like Sorcerer and Wizard at the earliest levels (I mean, let's be honest, even full casters aren't very strong at the start of the game - low HP, only a handful of spells, and little in the way of meaningful class abilities), but full Vancian casters catch up about mid-way through and then overtake Spherecasters in terms of power and versatility.


MerlinCross wrote:

I can't wrap my head around Spheres rules and I like what I have rules wise. Don't want to slap another system on top of it.

And every SoP caster I've had the "Pleasure" of seeing in action completely dominated the game so why let that in?

First, "vancian" casting is balanced primarily by limited number of castings, which means each casting has to be powerful enough to make it worthwhile.

GMs that allow the 15-minute workday see problems because they are not limiting the castings appropriately, thus allowing a powerful ability to be used more often, which also tends to lead to casters using dmg dealing spells.

However, when appropriately limited, dmg spells get used significantly less since utility and support spells that do things that can't be achieved otherwise are still needed and the slots to use them become too valuable to spend many on dmg.

Really though, while that might be the common happenings, many play in ways that really shift that dynamic, and in the early days of 3.0, some people found even mid to high level casters underpowered as a dmg dealer.

Martials increase dmg output by increasing number of attacks, such as using Cleave. Measuring this requires looking at dmg-per-encounter or round, since dmg-per-attack doesn't include multiple attacks.

Second, utility spells don't change in power level by using them more often, and generally could even be at-will spells without increasing in power by much.

Exceptions do exist of course, such as Wish.

Spheres takes a different approach in general but some elements are still intended to be limited by a limit on number of uses.

Dmg is reduced enough that a fighter outclasses a caster in dmg dealing in general, yet the caster can still attack in a magical way every round without using up a limited resource, which makes the caster feel like a caster.

Now, spellpoints can be spent to increase dmg, but spellpoints are the limitation mechanic. You get only so many per unit of time. If a GM allows spellpoints to be refreshed too often, then that limit is being reduced and the things that require spellpoints become abusable.

On the other hand, what can be done with Spheres is also far more limited. Lots of vancian spells can not be recreated nor replaced by the abilities of a sphere caster.

Spheres also really encourages specializing which maintains strong theming for each caster much better than bloodlines or arcane schools.

Conclusion
There only two reasons I can think of why Spheres would seem unreasonable, it is contrary to expectations of A) commonality of magic and B) is supposed to have spellpoints be a limiting factor.

Some folks see Spheres and they find it crazy because magic is getting tossed around all over the place. That doesn't make it OP, but it can feel OP to someone who has ingrained in their mind the "limited slots" and "each casting is powerful" notions of vancian casting.

Additionally, with all the at-will magic, it is easy to forget that spellpoints are intended to be limited just as much as vancian slots are, which means that it is easy for the GM to forget about it as well as making it harder to get it right since it isn't all magic effects the GM has to keep account of, but only a subset of them.

In the end, I find Spheres to be much more satisfying to play, but also a bit harder to run appropriately for boardgame style games (the most common group of playstyles).


GM Rednal wrote:
Because there's probably something unusual in your games if Spherecasters are dominating them? They have generally linear power growth - they're probably better than classes like Sorcerer and Wizard at the earliest levels (I mean, let's be honest, even full casters aren't very strong at the start of the game - low HP, only a handful of spells, and little in the way of meaningful class abilities), but full Vancian casters catch up about mid-way through and then overtake Spherecasters in terms of power and versatility.

If I recall, the character in question was some sort of Darkness or Illusion based caster and just auto ended battles by making the enemy unable to fight. While at the same time making it impossible for the rest of the team to do anything because we weren't geared for it. Thinking about it, yeah I think it was some sort of darkness build as the rest of us didn't have darkvision we had to sit twiddling our thumbs.

And this was a jerk that would min max anyway so giving him full control over just how to build his caster was a bad idea.

@Interesting Character

I just prefer Vancian. Do I cast a spell or save it for later? Which spell do I use? What spells should I prepare? I like making decisions like that as opposed to flinging out spells all day long.

And then there's the fact it's not a small additional rule change it's the fact the wiki looks so bloody dense I can't even tell where to start. If I wanted free form magic, I'd play a different system. Not Learn Pathfinder, and then learn to bolt another game on top of it.


That feels more like a problem with the player than the system. You can cast Darkness as a Vancian caster, too - heck, a simple wand of it would go a long ways. Almost any build can be abused if players don't use it in a party-friendly fashion.


GM Rednal wrote:
That feels more like a problem with the player than the system. You can cast Darkness as a Vancian caster, too - heck, a simple wand of it would go a long ways. Almost any build can be abused if players don't use it in a party-friendly fashion.

Darkness yes. Darkness with a bunch of different rider effects on top and cast that basically all day? Don't think you can do that as a Vancian.

It might be a player thing but everyone cried about how Vancian is broken. And I see someone break the game with Spheres( a few times actually).

Ergo I stay away from Spheres. Heck I stay away from Path of War due to similar events. I haven't gotten to the point people break the game with Vancian casting but have seen Sphere casters basically rule sessions due to their build. It seems more min max friendly


Out of curiosity, have you ever seen a high-level full Vancian caster (Wizard, in particular) in play?

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

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Just a gentle reminder (everyone's doing a pretty solid job of avoiding badwrongfun accusations and I hope we keep it that way) as someone who both wrote significant swaths of material for Spheres of Power and Spheres of Might and produces content for Paizo:
There's really not a right or wrong when it comes to what subsystems you decide to use in your games, and there are many valid reasons to allow or disallow something. Sometimes it can be difficult to elucidate those reasons, and sometimes those reasons won't be something you have experienced.

Pathfinder is a huge game with a massive optimization curve, and a lot of times people tend to talk past each other because they're talking from different points on the curve. If you have a group that tends to feature hyper-optimized characters who play towards narrower specializations, then you're going to have a very different experience from a group that focuses on a party comprised of multiple well-rounded generalists, that group will have a different experience from a group playing iconic pregens, and that group will have yet another type of experience compared to a group that assigns feats and skills based solely on the events they play through each level (such as "We did a lot of climbing between this level and last, so I'm going to put ranks in Climb. We also fought a lot of dragons and I spent a lot of time making reflex saves, so I feel like I should probably take Lightning Reflexes.") Each playstyle is different, each is valid, and each can lead to very different conclusions about what is and is not balanced.

I actually chuckled a bit at MerlinCross's description of the Darkness/Illusion caster disrupting his game, not because I thought that was an invalid statement, but because I played a character who also used those spheres and had almost the opposite experience. Many of our enemies had darkvision (quite a few dwarves), and I was constantly stymied by trying to balance the action economy of starting and concentrating on my Darkness effects so I could save my spell points for my illusions. I spent a lot of time creeping with a single move action and getting battered inside my own field of darkness. But that's one experience with one character from one table.

One of the cool things about the sphere books is that they're customization tools, both for players and GMs. When you feel like you're hitting creative walls, they're a cool opportunity to reimagine the way that magic, or combat, or other related elements of your world work. They're a cool chance to change up a classic monster that your players might not be able to help metagaming against because they've seen it so often. If spheres doesn't make the game better for you and your group, there's no reason to feel pressured to include them.

Shadow Lodge

Michael, you're a damn treasure to have here.

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