Guidance – Gibbering Mouth: Alex Unchained

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, Alex is going to be talking about his personal “Always On” Pathfinder Unchained Rules.

Hello, folks!

Pathfinder Unchained has been officially released for a few weeks now, and a common question that I get asked a lot is, “Is this book worth me picking up?” and “What sort of stuff should I use out of this book?” Both of those questions are extremely hard for me to answer. I think Pathfinder Unchained is an excellent book, it ranks up there with Ultimate Campaign as one of my favorite Paizo Hardcovers of all time. Mostly, however, this is due to the spirit of modulation that Pathfinder Unchained fosters. I’m hoping to see more people who are willing to branch their games out away from what Paizo personally has published, altering the game so it works however it needs to work. If you’re not into modding, however, this might not be the book for you.

Now, that second question is one that I can answer. “What rules from Pathfinder Unchained are you personally going to use?”

Rules #1 and #2 — Skill Alterations

I’ve made it no secret that I am not crazy with how the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game adjucates its skill ranks per level. Personally, I don’t think there’s enough skill ranks, and believe it or not, but Pathfinder Unchained has several skill options for people like me that I think are extremely helpful.

  • Skill Groups: The first rule (and the most vastly-reaching one) that I’ll be using is the skill groups system. Basically, all of the skills in the game are divided into six general groups based upon their theme: Natural, Perceptive, Physical, Scholarly, Social, and Thieving. At 1st level, characters select a number of skill groups based upon the number of skill ranks per level their class gains: classes with 2 + Int and 4 + Int get two groups while 6 + Int and 8 + Int get three groups. As the character levels up, they unlock the ability to select more skill groups, with 2 + Int capping at three groups, 4 + Int and 6 + Int capping at four groups, and 8 + Int capping at five groups. Additionally, as characters level up they get to pick skills to specialize in. This starts with one skill for all characters, maxing out at 11 skills.

So, how does this work? Well, when you select a skill group, your bonus on all checks with skills in that skill group becomes equal to your ability score modifier for that skill plus half your character level (minimum 1). For example, if I’m a 4th level character who’s selected Skill Group: Perceptive as a skill group, then I have a base bonus (before feats, traits, and class features) equal to my ability score modifier with each of those skills, plus 2 (half my character level). Now, furthermore, when I gain a specialized skill, my bonus is the same: ability score plus half my character. That said, if I have both a skill group AND a specialized skill, my skill bonus becomes equal to the skill’s ability modifier plus my FULL character level.

Now, this system is MUCH less flexible than the original skill rank system, but ultimately it effectively gives you more ranks to spend. For instance, let’s say I’m rebuilding Kyr’shin, my cavalier / lore warden. I take my first level of cavalier, and as a 4 + Int class, I get two skill groups at 1st level, so I pick Physical and Social, by far Kyr’shin’s most important skills. At Level 1, Kyr’shin’s priming to get Dazzling Display as his 2nd level order ability, so I pick Intimidate as my skill specialization. Now, I use my full character level to calculate my skill bonus for Intimidate and half my character level (minimum 1) to calculate my skill bonus for all of my other skill group skills. This means at 1st level, I effectively have 1 skill rank in Intimidate (my specialized skill); Bluff, Diplomacy, Linguistics, and Perform (my social skills), and Acrobatics, Climb, Escape Artist, Fly, Ride, and Swim (my physical skills), for a total of 10 skill ranks, plus one skill rank in EVERY Perform skill. Now, this sounds awesome, but the important thing to remember is that all of these skills save for Intimidate have ranks equal to half my level, so they’ll stay at 1 rank until I reach Level 4 or select them as a specialization skill. But by Level 4 I’ll have a total of three specialized skills and although I haven’t yet mentioned it, you also gain a bonus number of skill specializations equal to half your Intelligence bonus (minimum 0). So if you have a 14 Intelligence or better, you have even MORE skills.

  • Background Skills: The other big rule that I’ll be using is Background Skills. Essentially, Pathfinder Unchained nominates Perform, Craft, Profession, Lore (a new skill), and Artistry (another new skill) as background skills. Lore is basically a super specific version of Knowledge while Artistry is like Craft, but specifically for works of art. Standalone, the background skill system gives a character two bonus skill ranks per level to spend in background skills, but as part of the Skill Group system, you instead get one free skill specialization with one of those background skills. Artistry, Craft, Lore, and Profession are all scholarly skills while Perform is a social skill, so use that as you will when determining whether you want your full bonus or part of your bonus.

Now, some sides notes. First, this system actually has rules for multiclassing that somewhat penalize multiclassing; basically, you use the class with the lowest number of skill ranks that you have levels in to determine your skill group progression, but you keep any skill groups that you were already trained in. This can make one-level dips EXTREMELY painful; for instance, if you’re a 4th level rogue and you take a one-level dip into fighter, you have to use the fighter’s skill group progression for the rest of your career. I’m probably going to write a feat or something for my home games that helps to alleviate this rather harsh tax, but then again, I suppose something that tries to keep you into the rogue class isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, I’ll probably write a few feats that allow my players to pick more skill groups and specialized skills.

Speaking of that, there’s a few places where these rules are lacking. Specifically, these rules don’t mention how they interact with feat and prestige class prerequisites that require a number of skill ranks. For myself, I’m going to rule that you are treated as having a number of ranks in a skill equal to your character level if you are trained in that skill group and specialized in that skill, or half of your character level if you only have one of those two things (specialized or skill group). Another place they lack is when options that add on more skill ranks are concerned. Pathfinder has been ridiculously stringent about giving players more skill ranks (to the point where it’s the third or fourth most common reason that people in my home games use to justify multiclassing), but nevertheless options exist. Specifically, the lore warden fighter and the tactician fighter. For my games, I’m going to rule that the lore warden fighter gains scholarly as an extra skill group at 1st level instead of bonus skill ranks and the tactician gets one additional skill group of his choice. Despite these shortcomings, however, this is an awesome system that not only makes skill rank management quicker and easier, but ultimately it gives more skills to characters in general. I really like it and am looking forward to trying it out.

Rules #3 and #4 — Stamina and Skill Unlocks

I really like both the stamina pool system and the skill unlock system; the game has needed some great ways to expand on skills and the stamina pool is simply a cool resource. Here’s how I’m going to use each of these resources:

Stamina Pool: Fighters get the stamina pool as a bonus feat at 1st level while other characters must select the stamina pool with one of their feats. Personally, I think that by giving the fighter this feat for free, he is going to be better at using the stamina pool than every other character in the game by virtue of having more feats at his disposal; only the brawler MIGHT come close thanks to martial flexibility. Further still, by making other characters pay a feat for the stamina pool, you put the fighter one more feat ahead of other characters. For instance, if a fighter and a brawler are 1st level, the fighter can use his stamina pool with his standard feat and his 1st-level bonus feat because he got the stamina pool as a second bonus feat at 1st level. The brawler, on the other hand, can use it with Improved Unarmed Strike and whatever feat he selects with martial versatility, but he has no other first-level feat to use with the stamina pool because he had to pay that feat to gain the ability in the first place. Again, with my system the brawler is the only other character that comes close to matching the fighter, although they’re a LOT more limited in what they can do than the fighter is.

Skill Unlocks: I’m going to let all characters have the ability to pick one skill unlock with the Skill Unlock feat; rogues will be able to pick as many as they want via their class abilities (several via rogue’s edge, several more via an advanced talent), which will leave rogues dominating this system while allowing other characters to gain some of the skill unlock system’s fantastically cool benefits.

Rule #5 — Classes

Of course I’m going to be allowing the new classes. In my home games, the unchained summoner will be mandatory while the unchained barbarian, monk, and rogue will be highly encouraged. As many of you probably know, I’m working on a few 3PP products to try and smooth out the edges between the new classes and their older variants, starting with Everyman Unchained: Monk Archetypes. Here’s a few of the long-term plans that I have regarding this goal:

  • Barbarian: Update archetypes that modify rage to function with the unchained barbarian. Update feats, archetypes, and prestige classes that don’t work with the unchained barbarian to do so. Compile a list of rage powers that are “equivalencies” between the standard barbarian and the unchained barbarian in order to allow barbarians to pick from a broader pool of rage powers. For instance, I don’t want a barbarian to be able to take both guarded life (the core version) and guarded stance (the unchained version), but I don’t want that equivalency to stop my players from taking rage powers from newer products and such.
  • Rogue: Basically the same as the barbarian, sans the modifications. I do want to update the ninja with an Unchained Ninja, however, and I want to make an archetype that trades Finesse Training for some more beefy, Strength-based content.
  • Monk: I’ve pretty much updated everything that needs to be updated with the monk in Everyman Unchained: Monk Archetypes, though I still need to do updates for non-core material such as Player Companion archetypes. I’m still looking through feats and stuff to see if there’s anything that doesn’t work with the Unchained Monk, however, so if I find something I’ll likely be making those fixes.
  • Summoner: There are a few summoner archetypes that don’t work anymore because they modify the eidolon’s base type, namely a few that are supposed to allow you to create a plant eidolon. I also want to try and go through the different types of outsiders and figure out what would work well for bringing back the aquatic base form for eidolons, if that’s necessary. (I need to look at that as well.) I also think some rules for eidolons that function as summoned animals, summoned magical beasts, and even summoned humanoids would be pretty awesome, but since that’s mostly the creation of all-new material rather than the updating of older material, I’m willing to put that on the wayside for now.

Rule #6 — Variant Multiclassing

I’m not going to call it Variant Multiclassing in my games, but its totally going to be a thing. I’m probably going to call it Dual Path or Gestalt Path or something, and my players will be able to variant multiclass and standard multiclass at the same time. The variant multiclass stuff is clearly balanced around the price of a feat (specifically, the Eldritch Heritage feats), and if you can have Eldritch Heritage and still multiclass, I think you should be able to take these options and still multiclass. The one rule that I’m going to enforce, however, is that variant multiclass features don’t stack with standard class features of the same name. Ultimately, I don’t want a vivisectionist alchemist to pick up variant multiclass: rogue for a whopping 14d6 sneak attack damage or a variant multiclass: skald to add his full character level to all Knowledge checks that he makes.

I also want to give variant multiclass options for the hybrid classes for two reasons: one, I think the “They’re basically like multiclass characters already,” is an extremely poor justification given that nine of ten of those classes have very unique class features and mechanics, and two, I REALLY want my players to have the option to gain the sacred weapon warpriest mechanic without going into warpriest. A paladin with warpriest levels for that ability would be SO cool!

Rules Under Consideration

Currently, I’m playing around with the idea of using the new disease and poison system. I like it for the level of “scary” that it has, but at the same time I’m not entirely sure how easy its going to be to implement in my game. There’s almost eight pages of rules for the poisons and diseases, and while the variant diseases won’t slow my game down, the variant poisons have the potential to do so if I’m forced to constantly refer back to my Pathfinder Unchained book.

And with that, those are my six “Always On” Pathfinder Unchained rules! So now that I’ve told you mine, why don’t you tell me yours? Leave your always-on Pathfinder Unchained rules in the comments section below. Make sure to tell me about any other cool special house rules that you’ll be playing with too, and make sure you come back on Friday for my first-ever Pathfinder Unchained Iconic Design! Take care.

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 also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.

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. If you like Alex's writing and are interested in supporting him while getting professional-quality material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game while doing so, check out the Everyman Gaming, LLC catalog, which is listed under Rogue Genius Games at the following locations: http://drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/6101/Rogue-Genius-Games/subcategory/19574_25289/Everyman-Gaming-Catalog

3 Comments

  1. Gilotto Davanar Reply to Gilotto

    I’m still waiting for my copy to arrive. I think I’ll use the stamina system and skill unlock system, along with the new base classes. As I’m currently GM’ing a Rise of the Runelords game without a fighter, rogue or summoner, only the barbarian player has the option to become unchained.

    I’m also interested in the automatic progression of the big 6 items. But I have to wait till the 25th of may before my copy arrives 🙁

    As for houserules, I’m giving every player leadership for free at level 7. Then only one cohort is allowed to ‘help’ the party in dungeons. I believe I read that approach in one of your blogs.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      I looked at the Big Six removing system, and while I might try it in the future, my current game has too much wealth invested into it to implement it. (They’re Level 8.)

      That was certainly my Leadership approach! If you want more ways to use Leadership along those lines in your game, check out my Leadership Handbook product, by my company, Everyman Gaming, LLC. I took the concept of “removing Leadership as a feat” and ran with it. Ran really, really far with it.

  2. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    I’ll probably replace the Rogue entirely with the Unchained Rogue, and I may allow the Unchained Summoner. I’ll dabble with the Unchained Monk, stealing from it liberally for my own personal Monk fixes, and probably dabble in some of the Barbarian powers, but I think I’ll continue using the regular Barbarian, though I can’t be certain until I actually read it myself.

    Skill Unlocks and Stamina to be certain, probably running it just like you yourself are. I’m interested in the “legacy” weapon systems, but I need to really pour over the mechanics. VMC will be a thing for me, though I’m not certain how many people will actually use it.

    Lore skills just sound fantastic as it’s a just a straight up increase to skills for people, so I’ll use that. I’m not so certain about the Skill Groups that you talked about. On one hand, I like it, as it really benefits lower skill point classes, but on the other hand, I don’t. The multiclassing aspect is pretty dumb, I think, especially if you’re something like Rogue 10/Fighter 1 and you’re only advancing as a fighters skill groups. More though, I think, should have been put into multiclassing and how it works with the Skill Groups.

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