I spent all day today (Sunday) preparing a game for tonight, and it still wasn’t really completely ready, but it was good enough for government work and I can smooth off the rough edges in time for next week (it’s a big ‘ol dungeon that the party has only explored, like, 1/6th of, partly because they seem to have forgotten that this game is starting at level 6 and ankhegs are not really a big deal).
Since I’m short on time, though, here’s what we’re gonna do: I’m gonna write a quick article about my first impressions of the Champions of the Spheres system the party is using, and then on Tuesday I’ll publish the Dungeon Born update that normally would’ve gone on Monday.
Champions of the Spheres is a rules supplement for Pathfinder that completely replaces all classes with three sets of spheres, magic, martial, and mixed, along with a few classes whose primary abilities is that they get to pick a number of talents from these spheres. Skills and feats are still a thing, but spells have been completely replaced by these spheres. This gives a ton of flexibility in creating characters, but I can also see why the group wanted to start at level 6: Low levels are even more punishing than normal Pathfinder here. When making NPC mooks with a couple of class levels to help familiarize myself with the new system, I found that my level 3 guys were consistently unable to pull enough talents together to get a respectable tactical doctrine nailed down (except for the hobgoblins using the Conscript class, which gets a plethora of bonus talents). That’s fine for NPC mooks, who can rely on unit diversity to form an interesting encounter overall even if they’re little more than a sack of HP with one interesting trick up their sleeve on their own, but as a player you do not want your only trick to be knocking someone one square back so that they have to provoke an AoO from your buddy with the reach weapon to get to you again.
Casters run on spell points, which can be expended to maintain an effect without concentrating on it, so when casters run dry they become more limited by being able to only concentrate on one thing at a time but they can still do something level appropriate. The vastly more limited spell libraries (generally speaking, one caster talent gets you what would’ve been one spell in regular PF) reign in casters a lot, although I haven’t taken a close look at caster abilities much, as the dungeon I built focused mainly on martials since I felt I needed to limit my scope in order to have any hope of finishing on time (and I was cutting it close as it was, so that was definitely the right call), but from the one caster I did build (three casters if you count the lower level gimped mook versions, but really, they’re just the same guy but at levels 3, 5, and 7 – level 3 guys to show up frequently as trash mooks, level 5 versions to pose a threat but only a bit, and the level 7 version who could be serious trouble, especially when encountered with level 5 versions of the heavy infantry and ranger builds) it seems like casters are mostly reigned in but still noticeably cooler than martials. Casters get to make illusions and throw people around with their mind and dish out tons of healing, martials get to bull rush without provoking and can allow enemies to auto-hit in exchange for getting an attack of opportunity on them when they do.
Still, overall this is a system that preserves the biggest appeal of Pathfinder – a million little options that allow you to build a character unique to you, whereas in 5e every Oath of the Ancients Paladin tends to feel like the other, regardless of race or feat selection – while still helping fix the most egregious of the system’s balance problems. Tiers do appear to still exist, but they are not nearly as severe as in vanilla Pathfinder.