Improving the action terminology


Prerelease Discussion


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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

Seeing how this topic is spilling over from multiple threads, I wanted to see if we can start a focused thread on suggestions for improving the terminology around actions.

As I think I've seen it, there's several primary complaints:
1) Overly verbose in some settings (such as spell, item stat blocks) where at least one of the words is repeated. E.g Casting: Verbal Casting, Somatic Casting, Material Casting. Gets worse when Action is appended to every noun phrase.

2) Explosion of similar but different action types. Both casting and activating have sub-types that are similar but different.

3) Confusion/cross-polution with action versus reaction.

4) The compound action don't flow in sentences naturally.

One of the things the designers were enthusiastic about in the early blog posts was how naturally Stride/Strike worked in different parts of speech/sentence structure. And I can confirm during playtests, the typically usage was something like (first round or two): "As my first action I'll stride, then use my second to strike, then then raise my shield." By the third or fourth round it had evolved to "I'll stride, strike, and raise my shield." It felt natural and fast. People weren't saying "For my first action I'll use a strike action." None of the terms got in the way. I think all the other actions on the playtest sheets (but I don't recall the exhaustive list) worked similarly -- aside from casting.

As I've mentioned in several of the blog post that this issue comes up, the reason for "Verbal, Somatic, Material" and "Command, Focus, Interact, etc" are to allow different interactions with other rule systems -- notably paralyzed, silenced, and interactions with AoOs.
This speaks to point 2 above. Now I don't think it would be confusing, and might even be cleaner, to re-use the same terms:
Verbal: (both for casting and command word activation)
Somatic: (casting only so far, or non-provoking interact)
Material: (casting, and provoking interact, could use a better term)
Mental: (activation only as shown, but matches some pf1 casting too)

Now if we unify those terms it is easier to write rules around which cam be done in the different constrained settings (instead of saying you can't cast verbal spells or activate items with command words when silenced, its simply you can't take actions with the verbal tag while silenced -- or you can't take verbal actions when silenced -- depending how precisely worded we want the rule.

However, there still might be feats/class systems that interact with casting actions or activation actions in a general way. That's why the editors, I assume, want that keyword repeated on each action type. This becomes especially importent if we unify the sub-types since you can't infer the main type from the subtype in isolation anymore. Similarly this is why they append Action/Reaction to everything, even when it just had the action/reaction glyph before it.

The natural language bit is trickier. Casting definitely doesn't flow, IMO, in the playtests I've played in, or listened to streams.

People normally want to say "I cast magic missile" not "I spend an action gesturing and an action chanting to cast magic missile." or not "I cast magic missile using somatic and verbal components". This suggests to me that the while the 1 component = 1 action works for balance reasons it doesn't work for language reasons. In the playtests I played in people quickly switched to simply "I spend two actions casting...." or "I cast X with N actions". Now neither of those are descriptive and both break immersion for some people. So I can see the desire for something cleaner, but we're not there.


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I agree the terms should be much more consistent and consise.

In another system I love "spells", "magical items", or pretty much any game element can require "Gestures" (with one or both hands), "Incantations", "Concentration", spending "Charges" (uses per day) or Endurance (which fully recovers in about 1 minute and is used for almost everything you do), and an Expendable or Personal Focus (aka a wizards arcane bonded item, cleric's holy symbol, and/or a spell's materials components) as activation procedures.
Each procedure has specific circumstances that prevent its use, and generally they are noted everywhere it is relevent. For example, you cannot use "Gestures" while "Grabbed" (a combat maneuver) or "Entangled" (a class of power that restrains the target with a destroy-able manifestation). And this fact is noted in the rules for Gestures, Grabs, and Entangles. Because everything is so well defined, the terms can be used as short-hand for the rules they represent (much like PF2 is trying to do), and because they are modular, they can be used for everything.

You can have an entirely "non-magical" attack that requires Incantations (the Monk says "Ki!" to strike for more dice of damage, the Rogue says "Open That Door" to his Brass Spider, etc.), and have it interact properly with effects like Silence that are usually aimed at Caster's specifically.

That system largely divided Actions by the percentage of your "phase" they used up, "Zero-", "Half-", and "Full", the only subtype was "Attack" which was any action that required an attack roll (such as all Combat Maneuvers), and any other that specifically calls itself such... Using an "Attack" action ended your "phase" even if you still had actions left (for metagaming reasons).


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A good way to clean this up would be if all action types were verbs. That way, casting and using items can be as clean and intuitive as stride and strike.

My preference is for this to be simplified, with the actual types of casting or item activation actions only coming up when relevant, such as in a Silence field. So you can just say "I cast {spell}" when using the base number of actions for that spell. I doubt a GM is going to make you specify "I use 2 actions to Power Attack" and it will just be understood when you say "I Power Attack" that you're using 2 actions, so why making casting so much more complex? When you upgrade a spell with additional actions, you can just say "I cast and upgrade {spell} with {extra actions}" or the like.

Likewise, when you use an item, you can just say "I activate my {item} to {whatever}." I can't imagine that reactions triggering off specific kinds of item use are going to be especially common, and in the rare cases where that comes up, you can call for it to be specified then and only then.

In the layout description of spells and items on the page, you can just say something like "Cast (Verbal, Gesture):" or "Activate (Verbal, Gesture):" to get it across in condensed format. Using the same terms for spells vs items makes it clear they're both magic-associated. And yes I do prefer Gesture to Somatic, which is a word far more associated with psychosomatic mental effects and disorders.

But maybe I'm wrong and there actually ARE a ton of reactions, feats, etc that interact with the various kinds of casting and activation actions. Since I'm going to allow this as a possibility, I'll go over ways the various casting and activation actions can be simplified into verbs.

  • Verbal Casting Action => Chant; Incant
  • Gesture Casting Action => Trace; Weave
  • Material Casting Action => Feed; Evoke
  • Command Activation Action => Command; Invoke
  • Operate Activation Action => Trigger; Wield
  • Focus Activation Action => Focus
  • Use a consumable item w/o spending Resonance => Deplete (maybe wishful thinking :p)

Note 1: I didn't go with "Operate" because operating non-magical items is a thing.

Note 2: I don't actually see the point of a Focus action. It is basically never used, almost all such items are Command. Now, if they universally define Focus as a mental free action as opposed to actually consuming an action like Command Activation Action, then sure, it can be its own thing. But in the cases where a mental activation still takes up an action, they could just say Mentally Invoke.

Note 3: If they want to overdefine stuff, they could define verbs for the various combinations of Verbal, Gesture and Material actions. For example, if the action to cast a spell with a Gesture component is "I trace {spell}" then the action to cast a spell with both a Gesture and Material component could be "I weave {spell}."

Alternately, as far as I can tell, the three actions for casting aren't really applied in any order. It's not like you choose Verbal OR Somatic, a spell comes with a set base action or actions and then adds extra actions in a specified order. So those could possibly be cleaned up into a universal terminology just based on the number of actions required.

  • Cast a Simple Spell (1 Casting Action) => Quick-Cast
  • Cast a Standard Spell (2 Casting Actions) => Cast
  • Cast a Complex Spell (3 Casting Actions) => Full-Cast

Barbarian Rage can just limit you to Quick-Casting; while in rage, you can only cast spells that only take 1 action. That's more thematic to me anyway than Somatic-only. Fus Ro Da is a thing, after all. :p


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Quote:
People normally want to say "I cast magic missile" not "I spend an action gesturing and an action chanting to cast magic missile." or not "I cast magic missile using somatic and verbal components". This suggests to me that the while the 1 component = 1 action works for balance reasons it doesn't work for language reasons

Gesturing and chanting sound a lot better than somatic and verbal (or 'material' which... is gibberish, and indicates keeping the bad jokes of material components around), to be honest. But simply 'cast' is far superior.

One of the big problems I have with the actions for spells, magic items and just interacting with any random object is the language is anachronistic and either modern or slightly futuristic in tone. 'Operate' would be acceptable for a cyberpunk game messing about with computers and drones. It doesn't fit here.

Further, it seems to micromanage the flavor text and the players. As long as they are casting/using things appropriately, let them add flavortext as appropriate. Don't force the players (or DMs!) into a mechanical state where they're simply droning through the mandated terminology by rote. Roleplaying games aren't from Mechanus.


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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

So one of the more radical simplifications, lets say we want "cast" and "trigger" as the simple plan verb form for those actions. What would we need to do to make that work.

Simplest option I can think of: eliminate Material. Just say all two action spells are verbal and gesture (I agree with the folks upstream that gesture is superior to somatic). And go back to all spells provoking unless otherwise stated. All magic items likewise. Now you don't need to say which type of actions you're performing to allow other people's reactions to work.


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One thing the spell actions has got me doing is thinking about how I would role play them at the table. You can plan it out on your character sheet for each spell.

For heal you can say:
Single action: “I place a healing hand on Valeros’s shoulder and he is healed for *rolls* 6 hit points.”
Two action: “I raise my hand in Valeros’s direction and say “Desna’s light!” and he is healed for *rolls* 6 hit points.
Three actions: “I raise my hand directly into the air, scream “Desna’s light!” and bring my hand down to touch the butterfly symbol on my chest and you are all healed for 4 hit points.”

It might take a bit more prep work and I would try and think of something more clever to say. But if you keep the parts consistent then your group will recongise your spells by your characters words and actions rather then just telling them. Just keep them pretty short or don’t drag out your other actions. “I then loose an arrow at the orc over there *rolls*”.


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I don't think it's necessary for every action to be fully explained. It's fine for using a dragon's breath potion to just take two actions and to let the player decide what exactly that means, but specifying that one of those actions involves breathing opens a massive can of worms.


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I think they were trying to evoke an image, be more flavorful... Which I would approve of more if the flavor text were more readily distinguished from the game mechanics.

On the other hand... they might also mean for these to be important details regarding the interaction of special effects... for example inhaling a mouthful of Cloudkill is a bad idea, so when using the potion you inhale outside the cloud', stride in, and then spew. They might even let us 'hold our breath' to avoid the effect in this edition!
Wind levels might note that they knock down hoods, and knock off hats (of a certain level or less of course), sometimes denying you some of the benefits of a cloak of elvenkind for example.

Normally we might have GMs say these fairly realistic scenarios don't apply because "it's just a game, they can't think of everything". Well maybe paizo is trying, I can commend them for that.


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Arachnofiend wrote:
I don't think it's necessary for every action to be fully explained. It's fine for using a dragon's breath potion to just take two actions and to let the player decide what exactly that means, but specifying that one of those actions involves breathing opens a massive can of worms.

I will point out that one of the things shown for Pirate mentioned a Breathe Deep action., which I assume is analogous to taking a deep breath and filling your lungs with air before you dive into the water. Doing the same before you breathe out a column of flame/acid/electricity seems like pretty common sense to me.


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Arachnofiend wrote:
I don't think it's necessary for every action to be fully explained. It's fine for using a dragon's breath potion to just take two actions and to let the player decide what exactly that means, but specifying that one of those actions involves breathing opens a massive can of worms.

I think it’s fine for that case, it’s a big deep breath to fill your lungs like you were about to blow out a cake full of candles. 2 seconds to do this seems reasonable.


Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

One aspect of the system that is, to me, simultaneously mechanically intereresting and awkward while playing is mixing which keywords apply to the character primarily during creation/level-up and those that apply during game play.

For instance in the case of Verbal, Somatic, and Material. I trust the player to know/check/be aware or Verbal = not in silence, Somatic = not paralzyed. As a GM (or as a player against the GM controlled opponents) I'm comfortable only hearing "so and so casts the spell foo" I don't need to know the action breakdown. The keywords are there, but as long as you're playing with a pool of players you trust (and the disqualifying conditions are generally rare) you don't need the subtypes, and you can clarify in the rare occision. However, I don't feel provoking an AoO, even considering PF2's limited access to them, is as rare --so you'll have every player with an AoO asking "did that spell have a material component" every time someone casts a spell.

Thus the material subtype is relevant (in game-terms) to the opponents of the caster, while the verbal/somatic are more just "internal" knowledge for the caster. (All are relevant for narrative purposes if your table leans that way... I haven't seen many that stay that descriptive across more than a session or two, but I know they're out there).


Arachnofiend wrote:
I don't think it's necessary for every action to be fully explained. It's fine for using a dragon's breath potion to just take two actions and to let the player decide what exactly that means, but specifying that one of those actions involves breathing opens a massive can of worms.

How does it open a can of worms?


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Ninja in the Rye wrote:
Arachnofiend wrote:
I don't think it's necessary for every action to be fully explained. It's fine for using a dragon's breath potion to just take two actions and to let the player decide what exactly that means, but specifying that one of those actions involves breathing opens a massive can of worms.
How does it open a can of worms?

Well what if you're stunned and can't take an action? The act of breathing has been declared an action and you can't take any... It's suddenly turned deadly. :P


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graystone wrote:
Ninja in the Rye wrote:
Arachnofiend wrote:
I don't think it's necessary for every action to be fully explained. It's fine for using a dragon's breath potion to just take two actions and to let the player decide what exactly that means, but specifying that one of those actions involves breathing opens a massive can of worms.
How does it open a can of worms?
Well what if you're stunned and can't take an action? The act of breathing has been declared an action and you can't take any... It's suddenly turned deadly. :P

Saying a Command Word to activate an item in PF1 uses a standard action, but I've never seen anyone try to argue that this opens up a can of worms where people can only say one word every 6 seconds.

It seems clear to me that in this context a deep breath is stopping to inhale all the air you can to fill your lungs to capacity to ready your breath weapon attack. Not the normal act of breathing.


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Ninja in the Rye wrote:
Saying a Command Word to activate an item in PF1 uses a standard action, but I've never seen anyone try to argue that this opens up a can of worms where people can only say one word every 6 seconds.

Maybe because there are actual rules for how much you can say in an action?

"Speak
In general, speaking is a free action that you can perform even when it isn't your turn. Speaking more than a few sentences is generally beyond the limit of a free action."

Ninja in the Rye wrote:
It seems clear to me that in this context a deep breath is stopping to inhale all the air you can to fill your lungs to capacity to ready your breath weapon attack. Not the normal act of breathing.

Even if it's for a "deep breath", that limits actions in swimming, smokey areas, gas effects, ect where you take a deep breath. Heck, you could even argue it's take an action to yell because you have to take a "deep breath" to do that.

So while you and I might understand the thought proccess behind the action, linking it to breathing [or a type of breathing] is just an invitation to open up the idea of breathing taking actions.

Shadow Lodge Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

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I’m pretty sure in the context of swimming, taking a deep breath will take an action—as Cyouni pointed out, one of the pirate archetype feats mentions a “Breathe Deep” action—and from context I’m guessing it will extend the amount of time you can go without air.

I think that’s a cool rule, and keeping the dragon’s breath elixir consistent with the swimming rules seems like a good idea.


Benchak the Nightstalker wrote:

I’m pretty sure in the context of swimming, taking a deep breath will take an action—as Cyouni pointed out, one of the pirate archetype feats mentions a “Breathe Deep” action—and from context I’m guessing it will extend the amount of time you can go without air.

I think that’s a cool rule, and keeping the dragon’s breath elixir consistent with the swimming rules seems like a good idea.

Oh I understand, I'm just trying to explain why it being an action affects things past the potion's activation and brings in other instances that breathing is brought up: IE, why someone would say it's a 'can of worms'.


It probably makes fire breath potions hard to use for creatures that don't breathe.


ErichAD wrote:
It probably makes fire breath potions hard to use for creatures that don't breathe.

It should... but chances are creatures will get an immersion-breaking pass on all such concerns. Just imagine for a moment a Skeleton drinking a potion, and then taking a deep breath...


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This is a nice thread. It would be terrible if someone were to detail it by talking about breathing.

I have a suggestion about casting. Rename verbal "wow", somatic to "pow" and material to "kow".

That way when your DM and you what you are doing you can be: WOW POW KOW magic missile!


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Malthraz wrote:

This is a nice thread. It would be terrible if someone were to detail it by talking about breathing.

I have a suggestion about casting. Rename verbal "wow", somatic to "pow" and material to "kow".

That way when your DM and you what you are doing you can be: WOW POW KOW magic missile!

I would prefer Boom, Pot, and Pow, as in, "she's got the boom-pot-pow!"

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

From my readings and assumptions I figured Focus was the new Concentrate.

I don't like the over-defining of actions at the moment, I see no reasons for there to be completely different sets that cover the same thing, but I do like some distinction, since being in states such as paralyzed has been brought up, or if you're tied up, or in a zone of silence. What all you are allowed to do in certain situations does warrant some distinctions.


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Rysky wrote:

From my readings and assumptions I figured Focus was the new Concentrate.

I don't like the over-defining of actions at the moment, I see no reasons for there to be completely different sets that cover the same thing, but I do like some distinction, since being in states such as paralyzed has been brought up, or if you're tied up, or in a zone of silence. What all you are allowed to do in certain situations does warrant some distinctions.

Yes, there are a lot of micro-terms for actions (Operate, Activation, Focus, Material, Somatic, Verbal, Strike, Stride, Interact basic, etc), and that's so far.

Liberty's Edge

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I think every individual action having a name is probably good. There was a lot of 'use a move action to do X' and 'use a standard action to do Y' in PF1, and the new system isn't gonna reduce the number of things you can do with an action, nor should it.

That being the case, having them labeled seems a solid call.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

If there really are that many action types, I really hope that somewhere in the book is a single definitive list of them. I don't want to have dumb arguments at the table over whether a certain word used in a feat or spell description counts as an action type or not.


Deadmanwalking wrote:

I think every individual action having a name is probably good. There was a lot of 'use a move action to do X' and 'use a standard action to do Y' in PF1, and the new system isn't gonna reduce the number of things you can do with an action, nor should it.

That being the case, having them labeled seems a solid call.

True, but there could maybe be a middle-ground, a sort of cleaned up Unchained action economy (I really like that are using the 3 Actions/Reaction system, but the micro-terms are making my head swim a bit, currently), but we are still working with a jigsaw puzzle with a lot of missing pieces, I can't wait to get a bigger/clearer picture.


sadie wrote:
If there really are that many action types, I really hope that somewhere in the book is a single definitive list of them. I don't want to have dumb arguments at the table over whether a certain word used in a feat or spell description counts as an action type or not.

They are having a glossary, so everything will be well defined.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Malthraz wrote:
sadie wrote:
If there really are that many action types, I really hope that somewhere in the book is a single definitive list of them. I don't want to have dumb arguments at the table over whether a certain word used in a feat or spell description counts as an action type or not.
They are having a glossary, so everything will be well defined.

"Operate: see Somatic."

*flips pages*

"Somatic: see Operate."

M*+*#%~&!!!+


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Rysky wrote:
Malthraz wrote:
sadie wrote:
If there really are that many action types, I really hope that somewhere in the book is a single definitive list of them. I don't want to have dumb arguments at the table over whether a certain word used in a feat or spell description counts as an action type or not.
They are having a glossary, so everything will be well defined.

"Operate: see Somatic."

*flips pages*

"Somatic: see Operate."

M%&$+@$+$#$!

Please stop, I'm having Shadowrun flashbacks.


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Malthraz wrote:
sadie wrote:
If there really are that many action types, I really hope that somewhere in the book is a single definitive list of them. I don't want to have dumb arguments at the table over whether a certain word used in a feat or spell description counts as an action type or not.
They are having a glossary, so everything will be well defined.

Given the ambiguity we got in asking for a definition of 'wield' - I'm more in favor of less hyper specific.

Hyper specific looks cool and sounds more precise - until someone uses your precises language to edge a rule and suddenly that hyper specific language gets all kinds of murky as the devs trip over how language works to justify why 'exploit A' doesn't work.

I think keeping things general 'movement action' 'speech action' 'thought action' allows less room for rules lawyering, and rules made with that idea in mind are less prone to sharp edge cases ;)

That's just my 2 cents.

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