Guidance – Gibbering Mouth: Playtesting Etiquette

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about the Occult Adventures playtest.

I absolutely adore playtest season at Paizo.com!

No, seriously, I do. From a gamer perspective, I love getting previews of new books that are set to be released in the future. From a designer perspective, however, I find the playtest feedback to be absolutely mesmerizing to watch. You get a real feel for gamer psychology by reading what they (gamers) think is wrong with a specific design. Even though I had no part in designing the new classes, reading through the previews really helps me to get inside gamers’ heads, so to speak. What do they value, or better yet, what do they THINK that they value? (That THINK is important; like most consumers, gamers rarely know exactly what they’re looking for.) It also gives an insight into what gamers WANT; specifically, what they wanted the product to be, regardless of what it is. Plus, its nice to look at what the design team is working on because there’s a chance that I might have to design for that class / system sometime in the future when I’m working on some Paizo product.

Oh, right. If you haven’t heard, I contributed to Paizo’s upcoming Giant Hunter’s Handbook. My name’s on the product page and everything! So yeah, if I’m offered a chance to work with Paizo again, chances are that I’ll have to look at the Occult Adventures stuff at some point down the line, so its best to look at what its supposed to be now.

Now, by the time this article goes live, the Occult Adventures playtest might be over. I’m willing to take that risk today, because I think its very important to talk about what constitutes good feedback for a designer / developer. After I’m done, I’ll give you a quick snippet of what I think of each class in the first iteration of the playtest. Sound fair? Great! Let’s get to work.

Opinions are Copper, Data is Gold

This one is REALLY hard because I’m out there with you, folks. I know how difficult it can be to sit down and actually BUILD stuff with new, untested rules, play REAL games and scenarios, and then submit unbiased results. It is a lot easier to read a class and come up with the worst, mostly specific example possible and submit that as evidence. But honestly, play experience is infinitely more valuable than an opinion. While a good opinion might allow a designer to see an issue in a different perspective, leading to a needed change, play data is more valuable because the game doesn’t happen in a combative vacuum. People like to roll dice, crazy-optimize characters, and assume perfect results and call the result data. That’s not data. Data is playing the character through an adventure or scenario that includes both combat and non-combat encounters, recording the results, and submitting those results. That is much more important because most people don’t play Pathfinder as a never-ending string of combats without any puzzles or roleplaying or skill challenges in between.

The “Right” Kind of an Opinion

Here are two opinionated statements:

  1. When I played the fighter, I felt weak. I didn’t feel as though my abilities contributed to the party because all I could do was make attacks.
  2. The fighter sucks. I didn’t contribute at all to the party because all I could do was take one lame action over and over again. It was the weakest class I’ve ever played; why bother playing a fighter when I could roll a barbarian? Paizo should fire whoever made this class because they clearly don’t know what they’re doing.

Now, what’s the difference? The obvious answer is that the first opinion focuses on feelings while the second opinion focuses on negativity. Negativity does not help you get your point across. At best, negativity gets you ignored by the designer. At worst, negativity demoralizes your designer, makes them doubt themselves and their abilities, which often causes subpar performance at work and during leisure time. In reality, negativity seldom gets you what you want. If you want to get someone to sympathize with your opinion, don’t attack people with your opinion. People always respond to hostile opinions defensively. You’ll occasionally see customer service representatives and forum moderators say things like, “We understand that you are being inflammatory because you’re passionate about our product,” but honestly folks, passion is not a good thing. Passion is hot and uncontrolled. Passion is fleeting. If you want to provide good feedback, respond like you love the company’s products. And as every married couple ever will tell you:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Provide feedback like you love Pathfinder, not like you’re passionate about it.

Quick Thoughts on the Occult Classes

Because Radiance House’s Pact Magic products are known for dealing with the occult, many people have asked me about my thoughts on the new occult classes. I’ve been a bit apprehensive about voicing my opinion on the topic mostly because I don’t see other Paizo freelancers doing the same. I don’t want to get myself in trouble or anything, after all. So what I’m going to do is give a three-sentence answer for each of the new base classes, plus the new psychic magic mechanic. Hopefully that’ll tide you over for now!

  • Kineticist: Warlock’s back, which is awesome. I think the class suffers from “shaman syndrome” in that it has a lot of different types of supernatural abilities to keep track of and I also don’t agree with people who think that this is the bender class, there isn’t enough martial arts for that. That said, I think the class is really cool and it fills a niche in Pathfinder that’s currently unexplored, so overall I’m excited for the kineticist.
  • Medium: I agree with the posters that the medium is “Pact Magic lite” but I ultimately think the medium as striking the “gypsy” themes while Radiance House’s occultist strikes a much darker, more forbidden tone. Some aspects of the medium are very complicated, such as the tertiary spirit ability, and I think the medium could use some slimming down. The “lose control of your character” portion is a bit excessive, but the awesome powers and the harrow theme really sell the concept to me.
  • Mesmerist: Conceptually, this is my favorite psychic class. In terms of its actual implementation, I think the mesmerist needs work. Being completely specialized in mind-affecting effects is a very hard counter to the class, so the mesmerist needs something to allow it to function without its psychic powers, such as a combat bonus of some kind.
  • Occultist: The occultist reminds me of incarnum, which is cool, and I like the focus on the schools of magic. There are a few abilities that could use some clarification, but overall I got the impression that this class was the closest to being complete.
  • Psychic: The psychic bored me because all I saw in it was a psychic sorcerer. Disciplines are structured almost identically to bloodlines and aside from being the only 9-level psychic spellcaster, I didn’t see anything that really defines the class compared to its arcane and divine counterparts.
  • Spiritualist: I’m a bit torn on the spiritualist because on one hand I think the idea of having a ghostly companion is awesome, but on the other hand I think that the spiritualist draws so heavily on the summoner that it might be better off calling itself an alternate class rather than a new base class. I’ve looked at the spiritualist less than the other classes,
  • Psychic Magic: I got real strong “Dreamscarred Press / Psionics Expanded for Vanician” vibes from this section. I love the concept for undercasting, but I think that it is something that should be made compatible for arcane and divine spellcasters. There isn’t anything inherently “psychic” about being able to undercast a spell.

And that sums up my basic thoughts on the Occult Adventures playtest! What do you think? Have you playtested any of the new classes? Left any feedback? Leave your answers below and I’ll see you for the next article!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune mesmerist, because the idea of a fox in a long tail coat and top hat saying, “You’re getting sleepy,” while wielding a sword cane is awesome.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC.

1 Comment

  1. I am trying to figure out how to build mesmerist, we have started Dragon’s Demand (lvl 1-7 I think) with fast XP progression and here are some of my thoughts so far.

    First the mesmerist is a totally viable party face. Works well with the concept of what the mesmerist as well, so on purely roleplay side of things I like this as I like me some pure roleplay.

    Second I see the mesmerists as being a controller/buffer class. Having d8 they are certainly not a combat oriented class as they currently are presented, maybe at higher levels depending on what their spells are and the feat choices, but not to start off with and I haven’t got that far yet.

    The problem is that I don’t see them being very good at controlling or buffing as they are sort of a minor spellcaster, with some cool abilities that are kind of buffer/protection based. Although it is early days yet and I am eager to see how this approach works out. I just currently see them as being quite limited at low levels, one dimensional usefulness. Although this is something that can plague low level casters of most classes.

    Multi-classing might be the way to go, but that just gimps both classes in the long run and the question then becomes multi-class with what? Rouge seems the best fit for how mesmerist is set up and I love me some rouge, but really let’s try something different…

    I am having trouble seeing what feats would help boost the build in game and specifically in combat, as this seems to be where the mesmerist is ‘weakest’ so far. So far extend spell seems like a good approach, but the burning of a higher spell slot hurts at lower levels. So I am still figuring out what would be a good fit for feats and kind of drawing a bit of a blank.

    How about anyone else?

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