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 archetypes, prestige classes, and the design space of each.
It seems like a week doesn’t go by without someone asking the Pathfinder-Old question, “Should we get rid of prestige classes?” Now, before we begin, I am a big fan of prestige classes. I like them and their heritage in the game a lot, and I like how multiclassing allows builds to become more diverse. What I don’t like is the lack of mechanical support prestige classes have in the game. Some abilities just aren’t worth using if you multiclass, and Pathfinder is TERRIBLE about allowing you expend your resources to make multiclassing less painful.
But when you get right down to it, Prestige Classes and Archetypes occupy very different design spaces in the game, and I’m not talking about the Paizo philosophy of “Prestige Classes should be Prestigious,” because I personally don’t think that should be true.
Philosophy of Representation
When thinking, “What does an archetype represent,” its best to stop thinking of an archetype as “class with modifications,” and more like, “class that is mostly the same as another, more common class.” When you’re a two-weapon warrior fighter, for instance, mechanically you’re still a fighter, but as a person in the world, what are you? You’re a guy who is really good at fighting with two weapons, right? Being a two-weapon warrior is your thing; its your identity as an individual.
This is basically the same with prestige classes; when you pick up your prestige class, you’re basically saying, “This is what I am. This is my class.” A character with the Master Chemyst prestige class, for instance, often thinks of themselves as a Master Chemyst first and an alchemist second. So what’s the big difference? When you take an archetype, you’re directly changing from one character concept to a second character concept. You were a bard that dabbled in knightly ways, but now you’re a BATTLE HERALD. In short, archetypes are all-encompassing class ideas while prestige classes are advancements. The “prestige” from a “prestige class” shouldn’t come from belonging to a specific organization, it should come from gaining abilities from mastering a specific set of skills and abilities. As was true in 3.5. Now, you might be wondering, “Alex, why do you think this? 3.5’s Prestige Classes were broken and uber powerful and unfun! Why subject us to that once more?”
Now, I’m not saying that we should go back to the era where it was Prestige Class or Bust; single classing is simply too good now. Pathfinder is designed where there are serious penalties for multiclassing for every class in the game, and the archetype mechanic emphasizes that problem even more. Rather, I think we should move towards an era where the purpose of prestige classes is to work towards something mechanically, because the game is sorely lacking in that department. Archetypes are cool, but they’re heavily restricted by their base class in what they can give. Building them is a process of delicate balance in which a single misjudgment can render the whole thing either OP or unplayable.
Prestige classes don’t have that problem. They’re their own entity, and entering them is up to you. If they were built around tacking their prerequisites and making the character “prestigious” with them, giving them cool tricks and abilities that represent a mastery in a specific area, they would be pretty freaking cool. That mastery could be as specific as, “I trip things better than anyone,” or as broad as, “I’m an exemplar of X organization or X religion.” They should highly the very best of your skills in a very specific manner, while allowing base classes, even the archetyped ones, to be generalists.
But at least, that’s my philosophy.
So I’m keeping this article pretty short today for two reasons: First, I want to see what everything thinks about prestige classes. Love’em or hate’em? Raise’em or let’em rot? Let me know in the comments below! The second is that this article quickly turned even more ranty than usual, and I didn’t want that. So in the best interest of saving YOU from a garbling mess of words, I’ll see you next time at the Know Direction Network! 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.