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 player deaths in Pathfinder Society.
Welcome to Part Two of what apparently became a two-part article about something that I personally think Pathfinder Society could improve itself in.
WARNING: THIS IS AN OPINION PIECE WHERE I EXPRESS MY OPINION ON A TOPIC. YOU’RE WELCOME TO DISAGREE AND ENCOURAGED TO SHARE YOUR PERSPECTIVE, BUT DON’T BE A JERK.
Last Monday, my Guidance PFS topic was about Scenario Replays. I brought up a number of points about replaying scenarios in Pathfinder Society as well as the downsides of the current model of play. One of the points that I made was that when your character dies early during a module or in a series of linked scenarios, you’re basically locked out from completing that story in full. Die during the third encounter in Wardens of the Reborn Forge? Not only is your character dead, and thereby not participating in the adventure, but you’re also not going to be able to ever do that scenario again for the rest of your PFS career.
Now, dying in Wardens of the Reborn Forge isn’t terrible; by the time you run that module, you’re likely of a high enough level that you can afford to pay for a raise dead spell, either with gold or prestige. And if you die in a Level 1-2 subtier dungeon, your character is likely green enough that you don’t care too much about dying. No, where the problem arises is when you die in the level 3–5 range. At that point in the campaign, you probably don’t have enough gold or prestige to bring yourself back to life, but you also have 18–30 hours of playtime invested into the character. Dying at that point in the game is brutal. Why, you ask?
Death and Death Taxes
For those who are unfamiliar, death has a cost in Pathfinder. The first spell that can raise you from the dead without transforming you into a bugbear or a newt or something raise dead, a 5th level spell. Being raised from the dead costs 5,450 gp to reattach your soul to your body (450 gp to cast the spell, 5,000 for the material component), but the fees don’t stop there. Raise dead also slaps two negative levels onto your corpse, which need to be removed via restoration. Restoration can remove one negative level per casting, and one casting costs 1,280 gp (280 gp to cast the spell, 1,000 gp for the material component. So ultimately you’re left with a bill of 5,450 gp + 1,280 gp + 1,280 gp = 8,010 gp, quite a hefty bill.
Now, let’s compare that to the amount of wealth that you’re assumed to have in Pathfinder Society. (I’m also listing the amount of wealth that the Core Rulebook says that you ought to have at your disposal in brackets.)
Level 01: 150 gp
Level 02: 1659 gp (1000 gp; +65%)
Level 03: 3168 gp (3000 gp; +5%)
Level 04: 7008 gp (6000 gp; +16%)
Level 05: 11646 gp (10500 gp; +10%)
Level 06: 18423 gp (16000 gp; 15%)
Level 07: 27309 gp (23500 gp; +16%)
Level 08: 39447 gp (33000 gp; +19%)
Level 09: 53991 gp (46000 gp; +17%)
Level 10: 68535 gp (62000 gp; +10%)
Level 11: 91065 gp (82000 gp; +11%)
Level 12: 113595 gp (108000 gp; +5%)
I need to thank caubocalypse for taking these averages based upon his own scenarios; since my highest character is only Level 7, I wouldn’t be able to list the values as high as he went. Because I don’t know which scenarios caubo used to formulate his list, there’s a bit of vagueness here that I’m not going to be able to dispel. After going through all of my scenarios (I’ve played 1st through 7th as I’ve mentioned), I will say that my numbers are similar, but not perfectly spot-on. For instance, I have about a +67% at 2nd level, but a +4% at 3rd level. (The subtle intricacies of MATH!)
So basically, as we can see, you can’t even think about buying a raise dead until 4th level, which is basically assuming that you bought next to nothing, and even then you’re not going to be able to afford to remove the negative levels that you’re going to gain from the traumatic experience.
Now, using this chart I’m basically ready to make my case, but before I do I’m going to nip a certain counterargument in the bud: prestige points. I have plenty of readers who don’t play Pathfinder Society, so what you need to know about Prestige Points is that when you play a PFS game, you get one point of Fame and one point of Prestige; you mostly use Fame to determine what items you have available to you to purchase from the Pathfinder Society and you use Prestige as a sort of currency that allows you to buy extra stuff. Prestige are weird because their net worth in gp is very fluid; for 1 PP, you can buy anything that costs 150 gp or less, but for 2 PP you can buy anything that costs 750 gp or less; x5 the value for double the cost. Meanwhile, raise dead costs 16 PP and restoration (with the material component) costs 4 PP. So, let’s assume that Prestige Points scaled linearly. Assuming they did, this is what the Prestige Point progression would look like, going from 1 PP all the way up to 16 PP, the cost of a raise dead spell. (For clarity, I put the total multiplier in brackets next to the gp value. For instance, if adding 1 PP increases the value by x5, such as with 150 gp to 750 gp, then this is the progression that we would see.)
1PP 150 gp (x1)
2PP 750 gp (x5)
3PP 1,500 gp (x10)
4PP 2,250 gp (x15)
5PP 3,000 gp (x20)
6 PP 3,750 gp (x25)
7PP 4,500 gp (x30)
8PP 5,250 gp (x35)
9PP 6,000 gp (x40)
10PP 6,750 gp (x45)
11PP 7,500 gp (x50)
12PP 8,250 gp (x55)
13PP 9,000 gp (x60)
14PP 9,750 gp (x65)
15PP 10,500 gp (x70)
16PP 11,250 gp (x75)
+1 PP +750 gp (+[x5])
Now, let’s look at some common costs, according to Pathfinder Society:
Dispel Magic (1PP; 150 gp)
Greater Dispel Magic (2 PP; 660 gp)
Regenerate (3 PP; 910 gp)
Restoration w/ removed negative level (4 PP; 1,280 gp)
Atonement (8 PP; 3,000 gp)
Raise Dead (16 PP; 5,540 gp)
As you can see, Pathfinder Society follows our estimates perfectly for the 3 PP, but something shifts right at 4 PP. That spell easily falls under the 3 PP category; its roughly 20% under the cost for that level. But it gets bumped up a point to 4 PP regardless. Things only get worse, in our faction’s favor, from there: raise dead, which should cost 8 PP, costs twice that. Same with resurrection; should cost 16, costs 32. Let’s figure out how much true resurrection should cost:
- The modifiers are calculated as Modifier = (#PP–1)x5. For example, 16 PP – 1 = 15, x 5 is a modifier of 75.
- Using this information, I can take the spell cost of true resurrection (26,530 gp) and subject the value of 16 PP from it (11,250 gp, which equals 15,280 gp) and then divide that quotient by 750 to determine how many PP above 16 a true resurrection should roughly be priced. This works because I know that 1 PP = 750 gp.
- 15,280 / 750 = 20.3, rounded up to +21 PP.
- This means that true resurrection would fit into a category that is 21 PP higher than our 16, for a total of 37 PP. Let’s verify:
- 37 PP – 1 = 36. 1 PP = 150 gp, all others equal 750 gp. 36 x 750 gp = 27,000 gp.
- According to the Pathfinder Society, true resurrection should cost 77 PP. This is MORE than double cost (37 x 2 = 74).
So yes, in terms of their net value, Prestige Points are off, and this is bad for the campaign.
The Prestige Problem
So, what’s the problem with giving Prestige a wildly varying price? Well, aside from being a headache for people like me, who find solace in patterns, the problem comes in the fact that Prestige Points are NOT like gold. As you level up, you amass more gold. Gold scales exponentially, not linearly. Prestige Points scale linearly. You earn a minimum of 1 PP for every scenario that you play, up to a maximum of 2. I know plenty of PFS players who assume that they’ll get 2 PP every scenario, but we can tell that the developers of the campaign (really, the only people that matter), do not agree with this thought. If you were assured 2 PP per game, you would get roughly 6 PP per level, but when you play a module worth 3 XP, you’re not given 6 PP for your efforts. You’ve given 4; the campaign assumes that you’re only going to earn 2 PP once per two scenarios. (Though I’m sure plenty of people are like me and generally have more than this.)
So if we look at this assumption, that you’ll gain roughly 4 PP per level, then you’d expect to have roughly 2,250 “floating gold” in the form of Prestige. This means that every two levels, you should have enough PP for one raise dead, which seems fair. However, this isn’t the case because raise dead costs 16 PP, meaning that could can effectively purchase one raise dead for every four levels you have. That means you get one raise dead after ELEVEN scenarios. (Again, assuming you get 1.5 Prestige a scenario, for 4 PP per level). This isn’t even counting the 5 Prestige Point tax that EVERY character must pay if the affair is a party wipe.
Now, its common knowledge that as a PFS member, scenarios basically stop for you when you reach level 12, so if you play three scenarios per level, for a total of 36 scenarios to reach Level 12, you can expect a minimum of 36 PP (assuming you missed every PP in the game) or a maximum of 72 (assuming that you earned every PP in the game). The first thing that I noticed is that if you earn EVERY PP in the game and NEVER spend them, you still won’t have enough PP amassed to buy true resurrection over the entire course of your adventuring career. Fun. Maybe if you earn every Prestige and then die in Eyes of the Ten you could get it or something. This also means that at minimum, you can pay for two deaths via raise dead with Prestige, or a maximum of four deaths. That’s hardly mean; granted most players shouldn’t be dying THAT often, but that leads me to my next point about death in Pathfinder Society…
For the Purposes of Raise Dead, your Wealth is NOT Equal
Yup, that’s right. Gearwise, sure, you’re probably at-level or higher than you would be, but for the purposes of raise dead, you’re 100% not. Why’s that? Because in a normal group of heroes, the party is invested in keeping you alive. You’ll have fought and played with many of the people at your table. Maybe you know them personally. Regardless of those factors, they care about you and your character and will pitch in to help you resurrect, possibly begrudgingly, but they’ll still help you and in the long run they’ll see your continued participation in the group as a beneficial thing. Spending money on bringing your friends back is not seen as a tax on your character, personally, and many groups have a rainy day fund for death.
But in Pathfinder Society, people are thinking of themselves and their character first. It’s a group game, sure, but many people aren’t thrilled about chipping in to help the dead guy, and you can’t count on everyone in your party to help you take a fair share for your death, if you can count on them at all. If someone has just spent all of his change on wands or consumables and you die, that person isn’t going to be able to help you (or is going to be resistant to helping you).
In short, a party has the combined wealth by level of four or more people to help them out while in Pathfinder Society one only has himself to count on, and in my experience, when you die and spend money, you have start saving even more of your money in order to buffer against the potential of another death, which means you have less gear than you should based on your wealth by level which will likely make you even more likely to die, because you’re poorly equipped. (Especially if you’re a gear-dependent class like the fighter or swashbuckler.)
Fixing the Problem
So, to reiterate: A party normally has 400% wealth when it comes to raising fallen party members from the dead, as all characters in the party are equally invested in bringing a fallen friend back to life. The Pathfinder Society does not come close to this; the amount of “extra gold” that a PFS character has ranges from as low as +5% to as high as +10%, and you can’t count on your allies being willing to toss a fair amount of wealth at you to help you out with the costs. Prestige Points seem to be designed to be most lucrative for consumable-buying, and their return on resurrections is actually very poor. There’s also a tax on simply gathering your party should the entire party die, and party members can’t help you pay Prestige Point costs for death even if they wanted to. Prestige Points are also very scarce and take many, many adventures to build up into a decent buffer against death.
So I suppose whether or not you think this needs fixing depends upon whether or not you think permanent character death is acceptable in Pathfinder Society. Honestly, I don’t think it is (but my reasons as to why I feel this way will be the subject of another article entirely), and this is the plan I would enact to fix the problem.
1) Remove the resurrection / body recovery tax on prestige points. Prestige Points are rare enough that this isn’t needed and it undermines Prestige Point’s purpose; serving as the “party pool” that adventurers typically amass while adventuring. Body recovery in general should be removed; if your group has to pay for a body recovery, instead give them reduced XP (1 XP for normal track, 1/2 for slow track) and no gold, prestige, or fame.
2) Place a GM-based Prestige Point system in place tied to a PFS player’s Character #0, as I mentioned in a previous article, and allow players to spend GM prestige points to raise any character from the dead, regardless of how long it has been dead. Not only will this incentify more players into trying GMing (which is something PFS needs), but it gives GMs more perks to pull from as a result of their commitment to the PFS.
I’m sure there are people out there who won’t like that my ideas make death less meaningful for players, but honestly, death should never be an absolute, unquestionable end for any game, especially something like Pathfinder Society. There is a reason that games like Skyrim are beloved and games like Blooudbourne and Dark Souls are niche products. Games that focus on the story are beloved while games that are overly brutal are usually bemoaned. And besides, we’re talking about a campaign setting that our characters can play major events out of order, where the dead can live and young women can shoot fireballs from their hands. And as James Jacobs himself once said, “Having the only reason that you can return from the dead be, ‘You’re filthy rich,’ is sort of a lame reason to return from the dead.”
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 and his favorite race/class combination is one that isn’t dead.
PS. Here’s ANOTHER cool idea for you PFS guys that you’re 100% able to steal. If your character dies, he can choose to take a special Faction card (ones with check boxes like what the PFS crew previewed on Know Direction) instead of being reported as dead. The Faction card marks you as owing a favor to Pharasma, and it gives you a list of objectives that you have to complete over the course of your next few levels, and if you don’t something bad happens to you. Because if Pharasma says its not your time, then its damn well not your time.