Guidance – Debate Club 1: Caster vs. Martial Disparity

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 Sayian Fallacy.

Today I’m introducing a new article feature: debate club! In debate club, I’m going to talk a bit about a particular topic in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and provide part (but not all) of my opinion in order to get a conversation started. At the end of the article, there will be a link to a thread on the Know Direction Network forums for community members (myself included) to further discuss the topic at length. Let’s get started!

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard someone claim that, “Paizo hates martials.” I suspect that if I could see you, there are a decent number of people either with raised hands who are muttering, “Yeah,” under their breath. Personally, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear someone saying that or read it online, but as a freelancer for Paizo, I simply don’t see it. I don’t see a single person working for that company who hates martial characters, and from all the stories I’ve heard most of them don’t even play full casters; a cleric or maybe a sorcerer here or there, but hardly ever a wizard or druid or even an oracle. Generally, I think Paizo people write and play what’s fun for them, which is a good stance to take when you’re playing a roleplaying game.

However, I also think that its important to analyze why the perception that “Paizo hates martials” exists, and possibly knock down a few misconceptions along the way. So that’s what we’re going to do today! Huzzah!

Skill Floors and Skill Ceilings

Before we get started on this topic, we need to talk about the concept of “skill floors” and “skill ceilings.” They’re both rather similar; the skill “floor” is the minimum amount of skill (both in terms of tactical performance and rules knowledge) in order to play your character effectively. Generally speaking, the skill floor is lower for martials then it is for spellcasters, meaning that it takes less skill to be effective with a martial character than a spellcaster. Usually, this happens because characters tend to be less complex mechanics-wise then spellcasters. For example, the fighter requires you to know the basic rules of combat and pick feats, which is already a concept that you’re likely familiar with. The rogue, barbarian, and unchained monk are all varying degrees higher than the fighter, but they’re still lower than, say, the wizard or cleric, which also require you to learn the magic chapter AND know a huge number of spells and in what quantities to prepare and use them. As a very basic rule, the more expendable resources a character class has, the higher the skill floor is to play that character effectively. (Which is why I personally consider the arcanist the hardest class to play, between the split spellcasting mechanic and the arcane pool.)

Skill ceilings, on the other hand, work in the opposite manner. The skill ceiling is the maximum performance that you can achieve, given perfect skill and ability usage on the player’s part. Generally, the more resources a martial character has to track, the higher the skill ceiling is for that class, but the level of difference between skill ceilings of martial classes is relatively small. And ALL of them are dwarfed by the maximum skill ceiling that spellcasters have. If you REALLY know the game, you can get a LOT more out of a spellcaster than a martial character. That’s because of how spells work in Pathfinder; they have specific, predetermined effects, and the more spells that you know about and prepare for, the better off you’ll be in the long run. This includes knowing how and when to use spells, which spells are good and which spells aren’t, picking a good spread of spells, and applying those spells in the most effective way possible.

Barring the addition of a mechanic that is equally as flexible (and complex) as spellcasting, there really isn’t a way that Paizo could raise the skill ceing of martial characters to the point where they rival those of spellcasters. This is why every now and then, you’ll see archetypes that add spellcasting to no-spells classes, like the new fighter and rogue archetypes in Arcane Anthology. Now, this might sound like I’m saying that there’s truth to the martial/spellcaster discrepancy and that Paizo hates martial characters. I’m not, and its mostly because there are a few fallacies that surround spellcasters that cause people to misjudge their effectiveness in combat.

Often when you read about spellcasters and how unlimitedly powerful, the caster’s primary resource (spells) are compared to martial abilities out of context with the class as a whole. For example, I’ve heard people say, “Why do I need a rogue? My wizard can just prepare knock and the rogue is obsolete.” The most obvious reason, of course, is that knock is once per day while the rogue can detect traps at will. “Well, I’ll just get a wand of knock. 50 per day!” First, that relies on your ability to craft or procure a wand of knock and having the monetary resources and time to do so. For slightly more, the rogue can purchase an item that gives him a +5 competence bonus on his Disable Device check, which is half of the “bonus” provided by the spell, except it never runs out. Also, knock is more limited in application. It doesn’t apply to traps and anything else you might want to disable. Finally, such folks never seem to “remember” that a rogue could just take Use Magic Device as a skill and use that same wand herself! Using spell completion and spell trigger magic items easier is a benefit of spellcasting, but it doesn’t make those items a spellcaster-only feature.

This is generally the same for all spells that “infringe on other classes;” they’re of limited use when prepared and when given as a magic item, they’re just as useful to their respective martials, provided some ranks in Use Magic Device were spent on making it useful.

Along these same lines, no one ever talks about limitations in wealth when they talk about spellcasters and beating martials at their own game through magic items. A wand of knock costs a thousand gold and some change; how long is it going to be until you have that kind of monetary resource at your disposal, and do you REALLY want to wait that long? If you’re a wizard, are you going to have time to research more spells? Will you want to sacrifice scrolls that you find to add them to your spellbook? Will you encounter spellbooks from which you can copy or prepare? Do you REALLY want to spend resources invalidating another one of your party’s characters? Do you REALLY want to take away from your mental ability score to have the skill ranks or physical ability scores to match them? These are all serious in-context questions that limit the power of spellcasters.

There are TONS of other ways that people say spellcasters are better than martials, but rather than guess what sort of comments I’m going to get from people, I’m going to do the democratic thing and turn the floor over to you, dear readers! Follow the link below to the Know Direction Forums and participate in the debate! You can use the comments section below if you want to comment on anything I wrote in the article, but if you want to add new thoughts, please use the forum. Thanks in advanced, and I’ll see you on Friday for another new installment of Iconic Design! Take care always.

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.

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