Free Archetype - Prevalence and Use


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion


How many people are using the Free Archetype in Pathfinder? I am getting the impression around me that almost everyone uses that or dual classing, but am wondering if that is a local thing. Most people seem to like Pathfinder, but the actual flexibility within class is considered suboptimal/flavourless (there is too often a “single” good choice), which is remedied by the archetypes.

However what do others see?

Sczarni

I selected a handful of Archetypes to offer my players for an upcoming "pirate" campaign set in the Shackles.

I view the Free Archetype system as a way to augment a character's Background. Something that can continue to grow with them as they level.


We are playing EC with FA ( we decided to try it by the beginning of book 3 ) and AoA without it.

I gave no limits to the archetype ( not necessarily something inherent with the waywonder circus ), so my players decided what to do with their characters with total freedom.

I have seen a sensible improvement of their combat skills, as well as their trivial ones, but since book 3 is a clownfiesta in terms of difficulty, I can't say for sure how much powercreep did the FA.

They enjoyed it, but all of them recognized it gave them unrequired extra power.

If this can help, the group is composed by 5 characters ( 5 players 1dm ).
I had to modify encounters to increase difficulty ( following the rules to adjust encounter ) but everything was trivial.

I had to throw in 2, and sometimes 3 encounters at once to make things challenging ( but, as mentioned before, though realizing that FA gave players more power, I have the feel it's the book that it's pretty smooth/easy/trivial ).

That said, 2e progression is kinda slow, so FA may allow you to customize your character in a better way.
If you feel that players have not enough customization ( or also, if the campaign proceeds at slow pace ), consider try it.

Dual Classing is mostly for small groups ( 3 players or less ), that don't want to have more than 1 character. Make it standard regardless the situation would be absurd.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Many of the tables I play at or around aren't really interested in playing Pathfinder without FA and basically treat unrestricted FA as the default mode of play and FA-less games as handicapped (tbh, kind of in the same way I see most 5e tables treat feats).

I've seen some people online who are emphatically against Free Archetype rules, but haven't seen them at any of the tables I've been involved at, whether it's roll20 stuff, reddit groups, discord, or etc.

I haven't encountered any groups use dual classing in typical play scenarios though.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
HumbleGamer wrote:

We are playing EC with FA ( we decided to try it by the beginning of book 3 ) and AoA without it.

I gave no limits to the archetype ( not necessarily something inherent with the waywonder circus ), so my players decided what to do with their characters with total freedom.

I have seen a sensible improvement of their combat skills, as well as their trivial ones, but since book 3 is a clownfiesta in terms of difficulty, I can't say for sure how much powercreep did the FA.

They enjoyed it, but all of them recognized it gave them unrequired extra power.

If this can help, the group is composed by 5 characters ( 5 players 1dm ).
I had to modify encounters to increase difficulty ( following the rules to adjust encounter ) but everything was trivial.

I had to throw in 2, and sometimes 3 encounters at once to make things challenging ( but, as mentioned before, though realizing that FA gave players more power, I have the feel it's the book that it's pretty smooth/easy/trivial ).

That said, 2e progression is kinda slow, so FA may allow you to customize your character in a better way.
If you feel that players have not enough customization ( or also, if the campaign proceeds at slow pace ), consider try it.

Dual Classing is mostly for small groups ( 3 players or less ), that don't want to have more than 1 character. Make it standard regardless the situation would be absurd.

What does clown fiesta mean? Did it get much easier? That's probably good given how rough book 1 is.


Thanks. Indeed the dual class I have only seen in small groups, and then in larger groups I see mainly free archetypes.

But free archetype that also seems the baseline here, with the level of freedom for the archetype selected being a differentiator between GMs/campaigns.


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I play mostly PFS, so I don't play with FA. Around that, I see sometimes FA, sometimes not FA. Personally, I dislike it, so not around my tables (and as I GM as much as I play, it means quite many tables).


Captain Morgan wrote:
HumbleGamer wrote:

We are playing EC with FA ( we decided to try it by the beginning of book 3 ) and AoA without it.

I gave no limits to the archetype ( not necessarily something inherent with the waywonder circus ), so my players decided what to do with their characters with total freedom.

I have seen a sensible improvement of their combat skills, as well as their trivial ones, but since book 3 is a clownfiesta in terms of difficulty, I can't say for sure how much powercreep did the FA.

They enjoyed it, but all of them recognized it gave them unrequired extra power.

If this can help, the group is composed by 5 characters ( 5 players 1dm ).
I had to modify encounters to increase difficulty ( following the rules to adjust encounter ) but everything was trivial.

I had to throw in 2, and sometimes 3 encounters at once to make things challenging ( but, as mentioned before, though realizing that FA gave players more power, I have the feel it's the book that it's pretty smooth/easy/trivial ).

That said, 2e progression is kinda slow, so FA may allow you to customize your character in a better way.
If you feel that players have not enough customization ( or also, if the campaign proceeds at slow pace ), consider try it.

Dual Classing is mostly for small groups ( 3 players or less ), that don't want to have more than 1 character. Make it standard regardless the situation would be absurd.

What does clown fiesta mean? Did it get much easier? That's probably good given how rough book 1 is.

I meant to underline it was extremely trivial, which is not a good thing on a game.

Book 1 is indeed too challenging around lvl 1-2, but I fail to see the reasoning behind "Since book 1 was very hard, it's a good thing the released a trivial book". A tactical game is meant to be tactical and challenging.

A dm might consider lowering the difficulty if their players do just like to enjoy the story and don't like combats, but a good difficulty has to be provided by default.

It's the same as getting balanced rules over flavor.
Once you have them, if you want you can do all the modifies you like. But the product has to be well made in the first place.


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I dislike it so I don't use it, IF I would use then would be like SoT that is limited archetype based on the theme of the campaign.


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I use it and every group I've ever played with has used it, even my IRL group which feels like it's probably the only real 2E group that even exists in my area. Personally, I think it's for good reason. I consider it an integral part of the game and it's the only reason the game can mechanically support essentially any of the character ideas I have. If I encountered a table which wasn't using it, I wouldn't play. But, I mean, even if I am biased it's not like I've gone out of my way to play with people using it. I rarely pay attention to whether or not they actually are, it's just something I've assumed and so far I've made no mistakes. And hell, sometimes I've even forgot to include it as a variant rule when promoting my own games and people don't seem shocked when they find out it's in there either. I'm glad to see it, 2E is a much better game with it than it is without it.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
HumbleGamer wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:
HumbleGamer wrote:

We are playing EC with FA ( we decided to try it by the beginning of book 3 ) and AoA without it.

I gave no limits to the archetype ( not necessarily something inherent with the waywonder circus ), so my players decided what to do with their characters with total freedom.

I have seen a sensible improvement of their combat skills, as well as their trivial ones, but since book 3 is a clownfiesta in terms of difficulty, I can't say for sure how much powercreep did the FA.

They enjoyed it, but all of them recognized it gave them unrequired extra power.

If this can help, the group is composed by 5 characters ( 5 players 1dm ).
I had to modify encounters to increase difficulty ( following the rules to adjust encounter ) but everything was trivial.

I had to throw in 2, and sometimes 3 encounters at once to make things challenging ( but, as mentioned before, though realizing that FA gave players more power, I have the feel it's the book that it's pretty smooth/easy/trivial ).

That said, 2e progression is kinda slow, so FA may allow you to customize your character in a better way.
If you feel that players have not enough customization ( or also, if the campaign proceeds at slow pace ), consider try it.

Dual Classing is mostly for small groups ( 3 players or less ), that don't want to have more than 1 character. Make it standard regardless the situation would be absurd.

What does clown fiesta mean? Did it get much easier? That's probably good given how rough book 1 is.

I meant to underline it was extremely trivial, which is not a good thing on a game.

Book 1 is indeed too challenging around lvl 1-2, but I fail to see the reasoning behind "Since book 1 was very hard, it's a good thing the released a trivial book". A tactical game is meant to be tactical and challenging.

A dm might consider lowering the difficulty if their players do just like to enjoy the story and don't like combats, but a good difficulty has to be...

The issue is this specific campaign being tactical and challenging because it is marketed as a game about circus performers. If you build a party to look more like circus performers than adventurers you're gonna have be bad time.

And then the circus rules themselves were kind of a mess, unfortunately. I'm a wee bit bitter about Extinction Curse.


Captain Morgan wrote:

The issue is this specific campaign being tactical and challenging because it is marketed as a game about circus performers. If you build a party to look more like circus performers than adventurers you're gonna have be bad time.

And then the circus rules themselves were kind of a mess, unfortunately. I'm a wee bit bitter about Extinction Curse.

It's just another AP, with a different setting ( a traveling circus ).

But, talking about expectations, I thin I'd appreciate to have a 1-5 stars rating for difficulty, social interactions, etc...

I do agree the circus rules are way messy, along with the unrequired "gotta catch em all" stuff ( book 1 was slightly better compared to the others 2-4 ).

Currently, our group decided that each player rolls a check for the circus as a normal earn income ( unless they want to make use of a different downtime activity ).


My group always uses unrestricted free archetype. I've also tried double class feats, but didn't like that as much. My group aren't heavy optimizers so it usually doesn't affect balance much.


Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

My campaigns are slow (one session a month, if that) and I was on-boarding everyone to 2E and a few people to TTRPGs in general. Since the launch of 2E I've done:

1. Finish up 1E campaign in 2E with double class feats to keep everyone's characters with the same capabilities.

2. Fresh 2E campaign without Free Archetype from level 0 to level 8 or 9.

3. Newbie 2 person campaign without Free Archetype, planned to stop at around level 4.

4. Strength of Thousands with unrestricted Free Archetype.

5. Veteran 2 person campaign without Free Archetype yet, but they will be unlocking it shortly in a dramatic power-up scene.

Now that my players are all up to speed with the system, I'm planning on doing only FA from here on out.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
HumbleGamer wrote:
Captain Morgan wrote:

The issue is this specific campaign being tactical and challenging because it is marketed as a game about circus performers. If you build a party to look more like circus performers than adventurers you're gonna have be bad time.

And then the circus rules themselves were kind of a mess, unfortunately. I'm a wee bit bitter about Extinction Curse.

It's just another AP, with a different setting ( a traveling circus ).

But, talking about expectations, I thin I'd appreciate to have a 1-5 stars rating for difficulty, social interactions, etc...

I do agree the circus rules are way messy, along with the unrequired "gotta catch em all" stuff ( book 1 was slightly better compared to the others 2-4 ).

Currently, our group decided that each player rolls a check for the circus as a normal earn income ( unless they want to make use of a different downtime activity ).

I agree that is what it is. But it didn't really market itself as such.


Going through Extinction Curse without FA and Strength of Thousands with a slightly-less-strict version of its FA. I'm running Night of the Grey Death with FA and am getting ready to start an Agents of Edgewatch game with it.

...That's a lot of PF2. Anyway.

I think the game works totally fine without FA, even in EC where several of the encounters play against my character (braggart swashbuckler). Having said that, I like the ability to take more stuff and do more things. Any game I run going forward will almost certainly use FA. It does come at a bit of a cost, though, in that I have definitely seen someone new to PF2 struggle with the analysis paralysis that can come with FA.

As with any tool, it has its strengths and weaknesses. It just happens to be a tool I really like.

Radiant Oath

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

Just from the 2e games I've seen advertised for on these boards, it seems to be so popular it may as well be the default for the entire game, kind of like gestalt rules in 1e, at least from my admittedly limited observation.


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I have run twice with restricted FA (extinction curse and agents of edgewatch)

I have run age of ashes, abominaion vaults and a rise of runelords conversion without.

I have zero intention to run anything outside of a short adventure with unrestricted FA as it is a notable power bonus in the mid levels and a very big power boost in the high levels. And I have 2-3 players between my groups that could take advantage of it, while others won't... and I love PF2e core for not having that issue.

I don't begrudge people for playing / running with it. But I can't see myself using it as a default rule, as for progression I tend to average around two to three sessions per level and I feel players tend to be happy as is.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Personally feel wrong using alternate rules, even if I was in a game that allowed it I couldn't bring myself to use it. Feels like using a cheat code. If pfs starting allowing it I would change my tune but when someone asked if they would consider using it, the response was a flat no.


Free archetype and double class is one of the reasons why I still bother with PF2. Idk how many more people are similar to me, that like having a bunch of options in PF1, but I assume it's more than a few.

Free archetype and dual class will also just get much better as the game progresses due to being able to use more of the new options without compromising on other things.


I feel that free archetypes and double class appeal to 2 different kind of players.

I dislike these rules because they put the game closer to PF1 customization but also optimization level. I'd be interested in knowing how people who like them viewed PF1 level of customization and optimization.


SuperBidi wrote:

I feel that free archetypes and double class appeal to 2 different kind of players.

I dislike these rules because they put the game closer to PF1 customization but also optimization level. I'd be interested in knowing how people who like them viewed PF1 level of customization and optimization.

I'm definitely the kind of person you are describing. I spent a lot of time on the charop 3.x boards and continued to enjoy charop in PF1. However, my wife is kind of the opposite and also loves Free Archetype for reasons entirely unrelated to power. She just really likes having more cool stuff to tinker with and concept on. Even for me, FA isn't really a question of power. I think that PF2 is at its best when it leans into being kind of gonzo mythical (not the system) characters and I am most entertained when I can be something a little wild rather than "dude what swings sword". Again: Nothing wrong with that and entirely a personal preference.

Trying to distill preference of FA/DC down to a couple of different types of people is going to be a bit reductive. People like similar things for different reasons.


Gaulin wrote:
Personally feel wrong using alternate rules, even if I was in a game that allowed it I couldn't bring myself to use it. Feels like using a cheat code. If pfs starting allowing it I would change my tune but when someone asked if they would consider using it, the response was a flat no.

If you would play a standard campaign with premade adventures and full size party I could see that. However, to me, those situations are quite rare.

I admit I see mainly the character customization, but in our group we agreed to use archetypes for flavor / flexibility not to boost specialized characters further.

Sovereign Court

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I'm currently playing Edgewatch and Age of Ashes both without it, and my characters are both multiclassed heavily anyway. I don't feel it's necessary to enjoy the game.

As a GM, I would probably only use the unrestricted variant if I had a small party, say 3 characters, that have difficulty covering all party roles. Conversely, for a 5+ party I would certainly not use it, because it would make it that much harder for everyone to get their own niche that's really their own.

The thematically focused variant is IMO for a very different use case: the campaign has some theme and it needs all characters to have some stuff related to that, but you don't want to deny people the chance to play different classes. In SoT, everyone should be some kind of magician, but you don't want to confiscate all the fighter's class feats. In a knights on horseback campaign you don't want to impound everyone's feats to get an animal companion. Focused FA can help with that.

Focused FA also seems like a good way to reward people with special training earned in-game, when asking people to spend feats on that normally would probably run up against "but I had a build in mind and those feats are spoken for, so I don't want the reward".


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I've tried a few variants, but my favorite is this restriction: everyone gets free archetype for one multiclass dedication. They can't take any other dedications with their free archetype, and all the feats they take with their free archetype must belong to that multiclass. It doesn't interact with their class feats at all, so they are welcome to take other archetypes with that track as normal.

So far it's been really good. A couple made some really surprising choices and one made a really poor one, but in general they built some pretty thematic characters that have some bonus tools in different situations.

That said it's low-level yet and may become a big headache. It does have the weird effect of some characters having a lot more feats for their secondary class than they do their main one, haha.


I trust in the balance of action economy and feel FA is not only a good thing, but something I wouldn’t want to play or run without. Some players are always going to look for and try to exploit any rule or allowance they can. However, there are also tons of players that want to be able to be good “flower arranging” (non-combat related flavor) without having to sacrifice their core class feats to do so. Who is going to take Archeologist, Linguist, or Dandy if it costs them their main class feats to do so?
Pretty much every archetype feat is weaker than its level equivalent class feat. Those that are the same level of strength in value like stances one can get from the Martial Artists archetype come at a later level making them slightly weaker by default due to just delay of access. Since a character cannot increase proficiency rank beyond what their core class allows (Sixth Pillar being the broken and one day to be changed exception), having access to more tools doesn’t add that much power to the PCs. The Wizard can swing a greatsword around now, great. That same character is never doing it above expert proficiently at best and doing it without greater weapon specialization, the greater instinct abilities, etc. So as far as game balance, no harm done. As far as allowing that wizard player to feel more like he or she is playing the character they want to play, it is a win.
As a GM, if the FA somehow started feeling too overpowered, I can just add an extra monster or two to an encounter or add the elite template a bit more often. However, it has yet to feel that way as the PCs are still limited by the total actions they have.


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Initially I slapped unlimited FA on every campaign.

Recently though I've started to dial it back because i'm tired of the same 6 archetypes (medic, blessed one, caster multiclass, rogue, monk, champion) coming back, so I've started pre-selecting listed archetypes as the only ones available.

Here's an exemple of my Iron Gods 2e conversion FA list:

Free archetype list:
Inventor

Gunslinger

Archaeologist

Artillerist

Bullet Dancer

Demolitionist

Fireworks Technician

Golem Grafter (retitled: Robot Grafter)

Synthetic Augmentations (oozemorph but reflavored to be cyber enhanced)

Overwatch

Pistol Phenom

Scrounger

Sniping Duo

Soulforger

Spell Trickster

Spellshot

Sterling Dynamo

Trapsmith

Trick Driver

Unexpected Sharpshooter

Vehicle Mechanic

Medic(a player really wanted to be a surgeon)

Familiar master (constructs or aliens)

So far its been working nicely.

You can always check out the game Here


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

At my table we have yet to use free archetype or dual class. There are definitely free archetype enthusiasts in the community (and power to them!), but I'm not convinced it's quite so ubiquitous.

I think Ascalaphus has the right of it: unrestricted free archetype is at its best in smaller groups who are missing roles or to thematically reinforce a campaign with a pre-selected list of archetypes.

Is the flexibility within class suboptimal/flavourless? Perhaps. There are some levels where classes don't get any exciting or competitive feats, that is true, but there's nothing precluding you from investing in an archetype without the variant rule. If it's a concern of impactful feats, free archetype won't remedy that either; there will always be an optimal option for what you're building towards, whether it's a choice between two options or ten.

If I were to implement free archetype at my table outside of a thematic campaign or a small group, I would probably restrict it to low level feats only: free dedication and the first two feats at or below level 8, for example, and perhaps veto some of the power archetypes that can accomplish their goals in only a couple low level feats (Blessed One and Champion, amongst others). It gets around the concern with getting level 10+ feats for free and helps mitigate the whole erosion-of-niche issue.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I think free archetype and other fixes like it are sort of lazy fixes to the game. It's a way for paizo to have their cake and eat it too. There was a loud outcropping of people during the playtest that hated that you basically had to spend class feats to get basic things you just got naturally in 1e, but instead of fixing the issue for the main game they threw in this alternate rule to be used in home games. Same with ABP, as there was a lot of people who find (still find) that items are too strong.


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Gaulin wrote:
I think free archetype and other fixes like it are sort of lazy fixes to the game. It's a way for paizo to have their cake and eat it too. There was a loud outcropping of people during the playtest that hated that you basically had to spend class feats to get basic things you just got naturally in 1e, but instead of fixing the issue for the main game they threw in this alternate rule to be used in home games. Same with ABP, as there was a lot of people who find (still find) that items are too strong.

You don't need to have the most negative take possible. That's a choice you're making. It isn't that big of a deal.

Like in the community, Paizo has devs who want disparate things. It is awesome that Paizo lets their writers engage what excites them AND what excites their player-base. Neither approach is better or worse. They're different. It seems like Pathfinder 2 is capable of supporting both and I think that's pretty neat.


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I’m a big fan of both Free Archetype and ABP.


Saedar wrote:
SuperBidi wrote:

I feel that free archetypes and double class appeal to 2 different kind of players.

I dislike these rules because they put the game closer to PF1 customization but also optimization level. I'd be interested in knowing how people who like them viewed PF1 level of customization and optimization.

I'm definitely the kind of person you are describing. I spent a lot of time on the charop 3.x boards and continued to enjoy charop in PF1. However, my wife is kind of the opposite and also loves Free Archetype for reasons entirely unrelated to power. She just really likes having more cool stuff to tinker with and concept on. Even for me, FA isn't really a question of power. I think that PF2 is at its best when it leans into being kind of gonzo mythical (not the system) characters and I am most entertained when I can be something a little wild rather than "dude what swings sword". Again: Nothing wrong with that and entirely a personal preference.

Trying to distill preference of FA/DC down to a couple of different types of people is going to be a bit reductive. People like similar things for different reasons.

I think you read a bit too much into my question. I'm just interesting in knowing why people are more attracted to one rule or the other. And the fact that FA reminds me of PF1 made me wonder if it could be at least partially linked.

And from the answers in this discussion, it looks like FA is a more serious matter than I would have guessed. Which is important if I launch a new campaign without it, I may have displeased players because of this choice.


I'm playing in a game with it, ran a game and PFS without it. I look at it as a tool for the game. I think for APs where the power level and threats are inconsistent, it helps give the PCs a boost so they don't feel skunked when the balance is off.

For a home game, I've run without it and the PCs weren't noticeably under-powered and any balance issues were addressed in designing encounters with the party in mind. That said, if I wanted to run a higher power level game, I can see using it.

For PFS, it would blow the balance out of the water. Given the limitations of the scenario design, PCs would have a wide array of resources and options to crack encounters open.


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I'm glad people are enjoying free archetype. I was pretty sure, though not certain, that it would be this popular when writing it up in the GMG variants. I just love variants in general, modding the game makes the game that's best for a given group or theme.

One cool usage: You can also use free archetype as a carrot attached to something else rather than automatic, I've been seeing it in homebrew content too. Like in the Hell's Rebels game I'm playing right now, the GM is giving us archetype feats for raising our rebellion level. Or in the dungeon ancestry, one of the options is that you can unlock free archetype feats for challenging the floors of the dungeon PC.


Mark Seifter wrote:

I'm glad people are enjoying free archetype. I was pretty sure, though not certain, that it would be this popular when writing it up in the GMG variants. I just love variants in general, modding the game makes the game that's best for a given group or theme.

One cool usage: You can also use free archetype as a carrot attached to something else rather than automatic, I've been seeing it in homebrew content too. Like in the Hell's Rebels game I'm playing right now, the GM is giving us archetype feats for raising our rebellion level. Or in the dungeon ancestry, one of the options is that you can unlock free archetype feats for challenging the floors of the dungeon PC.

You could also work it as a mythic rank reward , since in total FA gives 10 feats and there's usually 10 mythich ranks.

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