Anyone familiar with my articles knows I enjoy variant rules. They can help reinforce the themes of a campaign, while potentially giving new life to character options certain players would be less likely to use. And while all variant rules should be chosen carefully based on the nature of your campaign and players, there is one that I daresay should always be the first consideration when mustering a new group: Free Archetypes.
Do you enjoy the idea of Prestige Classes but feel like they are either overpowered or interfere in normal character progression? Have you ever wanted a campaign where everyone was a part of the same organization, but knew it was asking too much that everyone takes at least one level in a prestige class? Or do you just find your players jonesing for more character options and a bit more crunch in Pathfinder 2e?
I’ve found myself personally using the rule in every non-organized play campaign I’m in and will continue to promote them whether I’m the GM, player, or a random ranting fox in your local discord serve. The extra feats help bring a new level of depth to your characters and campaign, without upsetting the delicate balance of Second Edition’s tight math. They give a certain amount of breathing room to players looking to take “fun feats” that they are afraid might impact their character’s normal efficacy while allowing the use of flavorful archetypes and class combinations that wouldn’t otherwise be advised.
But one thing that is so cool about this variant rule is how many different ways you can implement it and make it your own. Below are a few additional variants of this popular variant rule you can consider for your next campaign:
Campaign Specific Archetypes
Pathfinders? Hellknights? Masked Heroes?! Everyone taking levels of the same prestige class was always a pipe-dream campaign for me in Pathfinder 1e, but I knew it would never work with 96% of the prestige classes in the game without locking the entire group into the same basic role. But in Pathfinder 2e it’s totally possible to mix and match almost any archetype with almost any base class. Each player using one specific archetype helps cement the campaign’s theme, while also locking the characters into the theme of the campaign itself. You can start the game at level 1 (or level 0) and watch them earn that dedication feat in an initiation!
Campaign Specific Base Classes
Want a magic school adventure? You could give everyone the Magaambyan Attendant or Wizard Dedication archetypes… But why not make everyone a Wizard with free Multiclass Dedication Feats! This works best for campaigns that start after level 5, to make sure everyone has the opportunity to take options that make them “different”.
Odd-Level Archetype Feats
Offering players the opportunity to take archetype feats at odd-levels means your players get the opportunity to grab a new feat every level, rather than getting two feats every even level. This works best if the players earn that dedication feat at level 3, since most archetype feats start at level 4. It also works great for campaigns that want to start at level 3. (Or use that level to initiate the PCs into their permanent roles.)
Warning: I’ve found that the extra feats rarely make a character that much more powerful. But there have been a small handful of balance issues, mostly when a character uses a martial multiclass archetype on a martial character to combine offensive abilities such as Sneak Attack and Flurry of Blows. There are also certain archetype feats that I’d consider restricting to a character’s “normal feats”, but these can be analyzed during your session zero. These include the Combat Style archetypes that grant base class feats, such as the Martial Artist. You should also watch out for archetypes that grant extraordinary bonuses to allies, such as the Marshal, as multiple players taking them can cycle these bonuses and get out of hand. As a rule of thumb, you should restrict the bonus a character receives based on the number of archetype feats a character has to half their level, such as Ranger Resiliency or Disturbing Defense. Keep an eye out for ancestry feats that confer free dedication feats. And you should always benchpress your campaign!