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PF Thoughts: Converting Non-Core 3.5 Base Classes

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**Examples to be added as I have time.**

Pathfinder RPG has been out for a while now, and there are already tons of fan created conversions of non-core 3.5 base classes into the PF system. I have seen warlocks, beguilers, ninjas, even a favoured soul. Due to the nature of Wizards of the Coast's license on the material, fan conversions are the only way these classes will ever become PF material. This blog post is a collection of thoughts and insights for players and DMs alike to keep in mind when converting 3.x base classes into the PF system.

As was discussed (almost ad nauseum) during the open beta testing and [if I recall correctly] in the PF Core Rulebook itself, the primary reason for the changes to the base classes was that with all of the 3.5 supplements, very few of the core classes still held any real appeal. Many of them were below-average when compared to non-core base classes at a Wuxia level of play (roughly levels 11-15). Therefore the first reason for any changes to the base classes was to fix this discrepancy and make the core classes feasible options again; separating PF from 3.5 was secondary as PF is meant to be as close to 100% backwards-compatible as possible with the 3.x system. Keeping this in mind, we can assume that most non-core base classes need very little changes/updates to fit into a Pathfinder game. Paizo has their own official conversion guide that is a great help for straight conversion (existing characters, hit dice, saves, skills, etc) but doesn't help too much in terms of converting/rebuilding and entire base class for use in the system. So here are some tips:

  • EVERY CLASS SHOULD FORCE THE PLAYER TO MAKE A CHOICE, generally very early on within the first few levels. This choice is usually (but not always) an either-or choice that defines the character, and some classes have multiple choices. Example would be the Ranger's combat style (Two Weapons vs. Archery) and later companion (Animal Companion vs. Party Bonus) & the Wizard's focus (Arcane Bond vs. Familiar) and school (many!). Some classes opt instead for a grouping of class-themed bonus feats that the player gets to pick from (like the Monk and Fighter); these are generally for classes that either have numerous other class abilities or for classes that have a few strong class abilities that scale throughout the progression. As a general rule of thumb, if a class does not have a thematic way of presenting an either-or choice to the player, a limited selection of bonus feats is a safe choice.
  • CAPSTONE ABILITIES SHOULD BE WORTH THE PRICE BUT NOT GAME-BREAKING. Capstone abilities are another very notable addition to the Pathfinder system and one that should not be overlooked. Whereas it was often a poor move to monoclass a character in 3.x, PF seeks to reward you for the dedication--after all, many prestige classes offer valuable and interesting powers that can be hard to turn down. So, PF did two things that you can see in almost all of the core classes--many class abilities scale with level (thus getting better based on class level) and every class has a capstone ability. This capstone ability is usually keyed in some way to one of the choices the player made in the class (see above), and allows the player to do something remarkable that cannot be accomplished otherwise. You pretty much have to just feel this one out, so look to the core PF classes for ideas and remember that it should be awesome, but it shouldn't break the game.
  • SOMETHING SHOULD HAPPEN EVERY LEVEL. Now stop. You need to read this bit carefully so you don't go overboard. If all that happens when a character levels up is a BAB and/or save increase then you need to modify some things. Every level, something should happen within the class that make the character a little better at what that class does: maybe a class ability scales and gets better, more spells per day, a new bonus feat, something. This will probably be the hardest part of rebuilding any base class and it may mean changing how often an ability scales, or maybe changing the level the ability is acquired at (and then maybe even what it does to reflect that change).
  • COMPARE, PLAYTEST, REPEAT. When you are pretty sure that you've got a good conversion on your hands, compare it to a similar PF core class (a good rule of thumb is one or more of the base classes for the book it originated from, i.e. compare a class from Complete Adventurer to a rogue or a bard). I would even suggest building a sample character for both classes at a few different levels (1st, 3rd, 8th, 12th, 16th) and compare their relative strengths. Then it's playtest time! Take those characters and put them in a default party (Fighter/Rogue/Cleric/Wizard) replacing the most appropriate class and run them through an encounter or two. Does the class hold up well to its role? Does it overshadow the rest of the party? Does it need a little tweaking? If you did not give a resolute "YES!" to the first question and resounding "NO!"s to the last two, then you should probably go back to the drawing board and make a change or two.


Obviously converting classes is a hazy process and not everyone will agree, but this should provide a good checklist of things to pay attention to that will keep your favorite non-core classes balanced with their Pathfinder counterparts.

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Updated 03-18-2010 at 08:53 AM by Aerthos

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  1. TheTallestDwarf's Avatar
    Seems to work fairly well. I wonder how Marshal would convert into Pathfinder, since it's sort of a warrior, sort of a "Cleric-esque" Support class. Maybe they should be given bonuses on tricks naturally. I'd like to see a Full on PF Conversion Marshal (Without being ridiculously changed beyond all recognition of the original concept.) New auras, perhaps, new ways to use auras...
  2. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    When creating PF classes, how would you deal with the discrepancy in power? Should someone be stronger or weaker just because they chose class Y instead of class X?

    Let's take a very quick example; a level 9 rogue with the most basic of feats (TWF, ITWF, Weapon Finesse) would have 4 attacks; assuming 10 str and +1 Flaming Shortswords, they ca do 7d6 x4 every round on a full attack.

    On the other hand, a ranger who also went with the TWF tree would have also four attacks, each one dealing around 2d6+1 damage. (Give or take some change, with things like a longsword in the primary hand, slightly higher str, etc--not big enough to make a difference compared to the +5d6 the rogue stacks up by themselves.)

    The disparity in power is very easy to see, especially with the fact that the two classes attempt to do the same thing--deal damage. Does that make the rogue overpowered, or the ranger underpowered? And when creating a class, which end of the spectrum should one build towards, what with even more powerful classes than the rogue and even weaker classes than the ranger being present in the PF PHB?
    Updated 03-18-2010 at 04:41 PM by Ghostwheel
  3. Aerthos's Avatar
    The damage discrepancy between the Ranger and Rogue lies in the themes of the classes: the rogue is made to catch creatures off-guard (sneak attack), while the ranger is made to be considerably more effective against particular types of creatures (favored enemy). You also need to factor into the equation that by 9th level the ranger will have a sizeable chunk of HP more than the rogue as well as a small selection of spells to supplement his combat ability.

    @TTD: I've always liked the thematic element of the Marshal. I'm working on a Swashbuckler conversion as an example, but after that I shall look into the Marshal (unless you beat me to it).
  4. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    HP: Not... really. d10 vs d8 means 1 more HP on average (5.5 vs. 4.5) which isn't a sizable chunk. Furthermore, the ranger will have to spend more points on Strength to up damage while the rogue can invest even 2 more into con to bring it up high enough. And the ranger needs to spend ability points on wisdom as well--and, well, there go most of your points. So yeah, the ranger is probably worse off than the rogue constitution-wise, eliminating any difference--and perhaps even giving the rogue a boost in the HP department, since they get free feats and can take Toughness if they want to.

    Plus, in the damage department, all the ranger gets is +2 damage against a certain enemy. Still not going to even close-to-rival the rogue's. And at the specified level, you can only choose two enemies. That's not a very wide array to choose from... So even when facing favored opponents, the ranger's still behind in the damage department.

    Lastly, you mentioned spells; could you mention a few that rangers get at level 9 that can boost the ranger's damage to levels of the rogue? If not, then like I said... the rogue's way farther in the damage department, and how do you settle that discrepancy in power when making classes?
  5. Aerthos's Avatar
    Aside from the physical buffing spells, a ranger's spells generally are not meant to be offensive. A ranger's spells are more defensive (barkskin, wind wall) and supplemental (entangle, summon nature's ally). You are also forgetting that in order for the rogue to get that larger damage roll, the target creature either needs to be flat-footed or flanked by the rogue and another creature. The ranger's bonus happens all the time to the chosen creature type, and the damage is multiplied in a crit. Given all positive situations--yes, the rogue can do more damage than the ranger. But I think you know as well as I that damage isn't everything in combat, and there is more to a good RP than just combat.

    If we agree with that last sentence, then we should also agree that the ranger has a number of abilities helping him outside of combat that the rogue doesn't get. In the end, both classes have their uses--their pros and their cons--and it's all about what floats your boat.
  6. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    The thing is, the ranger can do rather little in combat apart from damage; they don't have that much more, especially with the way they (rightfully) nerfed Entangle in in PF. And we're talking about the mechanical abilities of classes to contribute in combat atm, so RP, good or bad, has absolutely nothing to do with it. We're talking balance here--you can have excellent RP without the rules at all. And flanking is incredibly easy to get, especially what with how PF's backwards compatible. Also, could you list a few of their physical buffing spells that increase damage?

    So my question stands; when building PF classes, would you balance them more towards how the rogue's balanced, or more like how the ranger's balanced? And how do you deal with the disparity in power between the two classes?

    (This doesn't just extend to rogues vs. rangers of course--if there's any class that's stronger than another, it applies to any of those as well. Well, unless you think that all the classes in PF are perfectly balanced.)
    Updated 03-19-2010 at 12:07 AM by Ghostwheel
  7. Aerthos's Avatar
    A buffing spell that increases damage? Bull's Strength comes to mind, but that would be the only one. Again, the rangers spells are more geared towards defense and supplementary/non-combat use than direct damage.

    By balacing PF classes, I mean balance them against a similar role in the "Default Party" makeup. So if you're making a front-liner, you should compare it to a Fighter. If you're making a sneaky character type then balance it against the Rogue. If you're making a class that mixes roles then you might be better off comparing it to another class that mixes roles (such as a Bard, Paladin, or Ranger).

    Beyond that level of balance, you cannot really do much. I have seen horrible wizards and amazing fighters and everything in-between, and it's all about how the player builds the character and how the dice fall--that's the nature of the system. If you want it more balanced than that then you'd have to eliminate player choices involved in character development and basically move back to 2nd Ed. But that is just my opinion.

    I suppose I should have clarified in the original post, since I am assuming you are referring to my second paragraph where I said that the primary reason for the changes was to "fix this discrepancy and make the core classes feasible options again". I wasn't referring to combat ability alone. If you compare almost any of the base classes to almost any of the classes out of the Complete Whatever books, in almost all cases the later has more appeal to a player because there are more things going on. Whether it be a new thematic idea like the samurai, something new and exciting mechanically like the warlock, or just the fact that you have something exciting happening every level like the ninja... players were less interested in the core material. So to revitalize those classes, you had to polish them up and add some of the things players liked about the splat material while also allowing lots of flexibility to play multiple characters as the same class that were still completely different on paper--hence the first bullet point.
    Updated 03-19-2010 at 07:56 AM by Aerthos