Thursday, January 31, 2013

Development Journal Series

I’ll be running a Development Journal on Fridays.  I make unique Pathfinder-compatible content on a regular basis and have strong ideas about the process of designing new content.  Each Dev Journal, I’ll pick something I’ve developed and talk about the process that shaped it and the changes it went through.  I’ll start with small stuff like a spell or feat, but I will eventually work my way up to full base classes.

Here are the basic principles I work by.

1) Keep a development journal.  Keep a log of every idea and every change made.  It’s really useful to go back over the log and see what you changed and why in order to make future development better, as well as to mine it for future ideas.

2) Always take power level into account.  It’s ok to make something that’s more powerful than what already exists if that’s what you intend to do.  It is not acceptable to accidentally make something too powerful, and you should never make something less powerful than existing options.  People either won’t use it or will be disappointed if/when they do.

3) Make something new or better.  If it exists already, there’s no point in reinventing the wheel.  However, if a concept exists that is very cool but the mechanics were poorly implemented, claim it, change it up, and redo it.  Don’t ever steal things wholesale, of course.  But if, for example, you want to make a sneaky shadow fighter, make one!  There’s lots of options out there, but maybe you can do it better or differently.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What's wrong with rogues, part 2

#2.  Insufficient Damage
A rogue’s schtick is supposed to be giant piles of damage.  They hit less well, have less armor and hit points than other melee classes, and have bad Fort and Will saves (the save-or-die ones).  In return, when the stars align, a rogue is supposed to dish out the damage.

Well, guess what.  They don’t.

Let’s compare a fighter to a rogue.  I’m talking straight fighter, no archetypes, two-handed weapon.  Heck, I’ll even say our fighter can’t use exotic weapons, even though fighters certainly have the feats available to pick up an exotic weapon proficiency feat.  I’ll do comparisons of rogue damage to fighter damage at selected levels.  I’m using the Pathfinder 20 point buy with emphasis on physical stats for both builds.  Both the fighter and the rogue will be human for the extra feat and will put their stat bump into their primary hitting stat- Str for fighters and Dex for rogues.  In this little demonstration, rogues always get their sneak attack damage.

Rogue with rapier/short sword dual-wield
Str 14, Dex 20, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 7

Fighter with greatsword
Str 20, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 7

Level 1 (average opponent AC 15)
Rogue- rapier
Feats: Weapon Finesse, Improved Initiative
Attack: +5 (1d6+2/18-20) + 1d6 sneak
Average damage per hit: 9
Average damage per crit: 14.5

Chance to hit (non-crit): 46.75%
Chance to hit (crit): 8.25%
Average damage per round: 5.4

Fighter- greatsword
Feats: Weapon Focus (Greatsword), Power Attack, Cleave
Attack: +7 (2d6+7/19-20) or +6 (2d6+10/19-20)
Average damage per hit: 14 or 17
Average damage per crit: 28 or 34
Chance to hit (non-crit): 58.5% or 54%
Chance to hit (crit): 6.5% or 6%
Average damage per round: 10 or 11.2

As you can see, fighters on average are doing a ton more damage than rogues.  5.4 damage per round vs. 10 or 11 damage per round.

Well, OK, you might say, but that’s level 1.  Rogues don’t have a BAB yet!  They only have one measly extra d6!  They can’t even two-weapon fight!  Surely a more fair low-level comparison is level 3.  So let’s look at level 3.

Level 3 (average opponent AC 18)
Rogue- MW rapier, MW short sword
Feats: Weapon Finesse, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (rapier)*, Two-Weapon Fighting
Attack: +7/+6 (1d6+2/18-20) + 2d6 sneak, (1d6+1/19-20) + 2d6 sneak
Average damage per hit: 12.5 / 11.5
Average damage per crit: 18 / 16
Chance to hit (non-crit): 42.5% / 40.5%
Chance to hit (crit): 7.5% / 4.5%
Average damage per round: 6.7 + 5.4 = 12.1

Fighter- MW greatsword
Feats: Weapon Focus (Greatsword), Power Attack, Cleave, Furious Focus, Step Up
Attack: +10 (2d6+7/19-20) or +10 (2d6+10/19-20)
Average damage per hit: 14 or 17
Average damage per crit: 28 or 34
Chance to hit (non-crit): 58.5%
Chance to hit (crit): 6.5%
Average damage per round: 10 or 12.2

Rogues have caught up!  A two-weapon rogue does as much damage as a two-handing, power-attacking fighter.  At level 3, the fighter and rogue are about on par, damage-wise.

What level should we compare them next?  Let’s find two levels that’re mid-level, somewhere in the 6-11 range.  They shouldn’t advantage fighters.  Level 6 is out- fighters get a secondary attack then.  Level 7 would be alright; rogues get a sneak attack die and fighters don’t get anything that directly increases their damage.  Level 8 fighters get Improved Crit or Improved Weapon Focus, level 9 they get the other feat and weapon training 2.  Level 10 they could pick up Crit Focus, but as damage boosts go that isn’t great.  Level 11 fighters get a tertiary attack.  So let’s look at damage at levels 7 and 10, since those levels seem to advantage fighters the least.  At level 7 rogues get that sneak attack die, and at level 10 they have picked up Improved Two-Weapon Fighting as a level 9 feat.

Level 7 (average opponent AC 21)
Rogue- +1 rapier, +1 short sword, belt of incredible dexterity +2, 1 stat bumps Dex (total 23 Dex)
Feats: Weapon Finesse, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (rapier)*, Two-Weapon Fighting, Double Slice, Weapon Focus (short sword)
Attack: +11/+11 (1d6+3/18-20) + 4d6 sneak, (1d6+3/19-20) + 4d6 sneak
Average damage per hit: 20.5 / 20.5
Average damage per crit: 27 / 27
Chance to hit (non-crit): 46.75% / 49.5%
Chance to hit (crit): 8.25% / 5.5%
Average damage per round: 11.8 + 11.6 = 23.4

Fighter- +1 greatsword, belt of giant strength +2, 1 stat bumps Str (total 23 Str)
Feats: Weapon Focus (Greatsword), Power Attack, Cleave, Furious Focus, Step Up, Weapon Spec (Greatsword), Following Step, Step Up and Strike, Dodge
Attack: +16/+11 (2d6+13/19-20) or +16/+9 (2d6+19/19-20)
Average damage per hit: 20 or 26
Average damage per crit: 40 or 52
Chance to hit (non-crit): 72% / 49.5% or 72% / 40.5%
Chance to hit (crit): 8% / 5% or 8% / 4.5%
Average damage per round: 17.6 + 12.1 = 29.7 or 22.9 + 12.9 = 35.8

What happened?  Rogues are way behind again in damage.  They do less damage than the fighter even when the fighter isn’t power attacking.

Well, here’s what’s happening.  Rogues hit a lot worse than fighters.  A rogue’s damage per hit is right around a fighter’s but ze misses a lot more often.  Ze has equal numbers of attacks (2 each) at level 7, but the inequality in damage persists even after rogues pull ahead due to more two weapon fighting feats.  I’ll run the rogue numbers with Piranha’s Strike, the Dex equivalent of power attack, to emphasize this point.

Rogue- +1 rapier, +1 short sword, belt of incredible dexterity +2, 1 stat bumps Dex (total 23 Dex)
Feats: Weapon Finesse, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (rapier)*, Two-Weapon Fighting, Piranha’s Strike, Weapon Focus (short sword)
Attack: +9/+9 (1d6+7/18-20) + 4d6 sneak, (1d6+4/19-20) + 4d6 sneak
Average damage per hit: 24.5 / 20.5
Average damage per crit: 35 / 29
Chance to hit (non-crit): 38.25% / 40.5%
Chance to hit (crit): 6.75% / 4.5%
Average damage per round: 11.7 + 9.6 = 21.3

As you can see, a rogue using Piranha Strike actually loses damage (23.4 > 21.3).  This is because ze misses so much more often.  Against exceptionally low AC targets, Piranha Strike might be worth it.  Still, it’s probably not worth the feat slot to take, even though it looks like a DPR increase, because of the many occasions in which it would cost a rogue damage.

Now on to level 10. This starts getting trickier- do we go with +2 weapons on the rogue or +1 agile?  I’ll run both sets of numbers so we can see that the additional +1 bonus to hit is not worth the damage loss.  I’ve given the fighter a +3 weapon because the cost of two +2 weapons is ~16,000 gp and the cost of a +3 weapon is ~18,000 gp.

Level 10 (average opponent AC 25)
Rogue- +1 agile rapier, +1 agile short sword, belt of incredible dexterity +4, 2 stat bumps Dex (total 26 Dex)
Feats: Weapon Finesse, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (rapier)*, Two-Weapon Fighting, Double Slice**, Weapon Focus (short sword), Improved Two Weapon Fighting
Attack: +15/+15/+10/+10 (1d6+9/18-20) + 5d6 sneak, (1d6+9/19-20) + 5d6 sneak
Average damage per hit: 30 / 30
Average damage per crit: 42.5 / 42.5
Chance to hit (non-crit): 46.75% / 49.5% / 25.5% / 27%
Chance to hit (crit): 8.25% / 5.5% / 5.5% / 3%
Average damage per round: 17.5 + 17.2 + 9.6 + 9.4 = 53.7

Rogue- +2 rapier, +2 short sword, belt of incredible dexterity +4, 2 stat bumps Dex (total 26 Dex)
Feats: Weapon Finesse, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (rapier)*, Two-Weapon Fighting, Double Slice**, Weapon Focus (short sword), Improved Two Weapon Fighting
Attack: +16/+16/+11/+11 (1d6+4/18-20) + 5d6 sneak, (1d6+4/19-20) + 5d6 sneak
Average damage per hit: 25 / 25
Average damage per crit: 32.5 / 32.5
Chance to hit (non-crit): 51% / 54% / 29.75% / 31.5%
Chance to hit (crit): 9% / 6% / 5.25% / 3.5%
Average damage per round: 15.7 + 15.5 + 9.1 + 9.0 = 49.3

Fighter- +3 greatsword, belt of giant strength +4, 2 stat bumps Str (total 26 Str)
Feats: Weapon Focus (Greatsword), Power Attack, Cleave, Furious Focus, Step Up, Weapon Spec (Greatsword), Following Step, Step Up and Strike, Dodge, Improved Weapon Focus (Greatsword), Improved Critical (Greatsword), Critical Focus
Attack: +25/+20 (2d6+19/17-20) or +25/+17 (2d6+28/17-20)
Average damage per hit: 26 or 35
Average damage per crit: 52 or 70
Chance to hit (non-crit): 76% / 61% or 76% / 48%
Chance to hit (crit): 19% / 19% or 19% / 17%
Average damage per round: 29.6 + 25.7 = 55.3 or 39.9 + 28.7 = 68.6

*Weapon Focus is from the Weapon Training rogue trick
**I’m letting Double Slice interact with agile in the most beneficial way for rogues, adding full Dex to damage with the offhand weapon.  There are RAW arguments to be made either way but this is all about using best-case scenarios for rogue damage.

I’m not going to keep going.  The damage gap keeps growing bigger the higher level you go, and as gear choices get more complicated it gets impossible to run all the alternatives.  Rogues can get a sword of subtlety or at really high levels, a sun blade.  Fighters can pick up gloves of dueling.  The point of all this is that rogue damage never even meets fighter damage, let alone exceeds it, even when everything works to let rogues get a full attack with sneak attack.  Remember, when the stars align, rogues are supposed to dish out massive amounts of damage to compensate for their weaker hit bonus and survivability and only-sometimes damage ability.

They don’t.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Women in combat

The Pentagon just made a huge announcement!  Women are to be allowed in combat roles in the military.

Why is this such a big deal?  There's a lot of reasons, many touched on in the article. I'll briefly go through some of them.

1) In order to advance one's career in the military combat experience is a must.  Combat medals are huge resume builders, both in and out of the military.  Since women weren't allowed in combat roles, they couldn't acquire official combat experience or combat medals.

2) Women have already been serving in combat.  They get "attached" to units in Iraq or Afghanistan, as female soldiers can talk to female villagers and gain information the men can't.  What that means is the women are on the same patrols, carrying the same guns and gear, living in the same conditions, and facing the same dangers as their male counterparts.  The only difference is the men are getting official combat experience and the women aren't.

3) "Combat roles" have been shrinking.  Roles that used to be classified as combat roles are not anymore because women do them.  Helicopter pilot and armored personnel carrier (APC) driver are two egregious examples.  In one case, a female helicopter pilot landed her helicopter under heavy fire, extracted a group of soldiers, and got everyone back out.  Every soldier including the helicopter gunner got a medal except for her, because she was not in a combat role.  This is absurd.  Women have been in combat roles for a long time and should be recognized for their contributions.

There's still a lot to be done about sexism and misogyny in the military.  The military is, in fact, one of the most toxic, machismo-filled environments in the US.  However, in acknowledging that women can fight, this announcement could start to break down the idea that women are inherently weaker or less capable than men.  The excuses we hear(d) sound a lot like the ones people gave for why Black men were unsuitable for combat- they were too weak, or their temperament was unsuitable, or it would make them unstable and dangerous.  It wasn't true about Black men, and it's not true about women.  So good for the Pentagon, and also it's about time.

I don't believe in fairies, either

Recently I came across an awesome post about how to have civil conversations between theists and atheists.  The whole thing is very good, but this part in particular stood out to me:

I don’t need to be certain there is no god in order not to believe in one. Just like I don’t need to be certain there is no such thing as a unicorn in order not to believe in unicorns. I’m reasonably sure that all the stories, books, movies, legends, etc about unicorns are either intentionally or unintentionally fictional, and that’s the same way I feel about (all) gods.

-Dave Muscato, The Official MU SASHA Blog

I've been having a really hard time articulating that idea, both to myself and others.  No, I am not 100% absolutely positively sure there are no gods, spirits, or supernatural beings. I still don't believe any exist.  And those are not contradictory ideas.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What's wrong with rogues, Part 1

My first project is a series of posts about rogues.  Anyone who plays Pathfinder has probably noticed that rogues just don't feel as good as other classes.  If you do the math, it just doesn't work out.  If you jump in and start playing, it gets very frustrating to be constantly not-quite-as-good as other classes.  This is a multi-part, in-depth analysis of what's wrong with rogues, followed by a series of suggestions to fix some or all of those problems.  This series will update every Tuesday until it's done, as which point I'll pick another thing to analyze.

So without further ado, I present to you:
What’s wrong with rogues, Part 1

No Clear Role
What is a rogue supposed to do?  People have lots of possible answers.  Some common roles are burglar, diplomat, spy, pseudo-mage, scout, trap-finder, light fighter, or damage dealer.  Rogues are supposed to fulfill at least two or three of those roles, but the problem is that rogues aren’t the best at any of them.  

Rogues make excellent burglars.  The skills for burglary are Stealth, Perception (to find the things to steal), Disable Device (to pick locks and disarm traps), and Sleight of Hand.  Acrobatics and Climb are also potentially useful for things like entering buildings or balancing across roof rafters.
Burglary is one of the few things I think rogues are unquestionably best at.  Other classes can still be very good- bards, rangers, wizards, and druids are also potentially very sneaky and perceptive.  With traits that can make Sleight of Hand an in-class skill for anyone, rogues have much less of a lock on burglary than they used to.  Nonetheless, it requires more investment for anyone else to be a top-notch burglar.

In order to be a “face” character one should have, at a minimum, Bluff and Diplomacy.  Many find Sense Motive and/or Intimidate good as well, though I consider them useful but not required.  Again, most rogues will have Cha as a secondary stat at best, so they’re not the best at this. Bards and sorcerers are better options for diplomats than rogues.  Paladins are often better as well- while rogues generally won’t get more than a 14 Cha, paladins often go with a 16 Cha.

Spying in Pathfinder comes in a few forms- listening in on conversations, breaking in and stealing documents, or using diplomatic skills to trick people into telling you things*.  Unfortunately, rogues aren’t the best at any of these.  They do have a lot of skill points, but different methods are skill-intensive in very different skills.  
Listening to a conversation is Perception- rangers, druids, and even clerics are better at it.  Rogues never have the Wisdom to back up the skill and become amazing at it.  Also, almost anyone can be good at Perception, so this isn’t a uniquely roguish trick
Breaking and entering is a roguish domain.  Rogues tend to have high Dex and will likely put points into Acrobatics and Stealth and possibly Climb.  Stealing things could be Stealth or Sleight of Hand.  However, you will note the four skills listed here.  Even with 8 + Int skills/level, a rogue is rapidly running out of skill points.  A specialized bard or ranger could be just as good at burglary as a rogue and have more utility to the party outside of burglary.
Diplomatic skills.  See my discussion of diplomats above.  I will grant that paladins aren’t always great at spying, but you can usually have them chat people up and pump them for information without calling it “spying”.  LG and no lying doesn’t mean no subtlety or tact.

*Yes, you can also magically eavesdrop via scrying or clairaudience/clairvoyance, but I’m leaving those out for now.  If you count magic, rogues fall even further behind at being effective spies.

Oh look, another Cha-based skill!  Bards are just straight up better at UMD than rogues and they can cast lots of spells inherently.  Sorcerers are better at UMD.  With a trait, anyone can gain UMD as a class skill, so even paladins are potentially better at UMD.

The most important skills for a scout are Stealth and Perception.  Survival, Acrobatics, and Climb may also come up, as well as Knowledges for identifying enemies.  Rogues have Acrobatics, Climb, Stealth, Knowledge (dungeoneering), Knowledge (local), and Perception in class.  They also usually have a high Dex, so they’re very good at the Stealth parts.
Here’s the problem.  Rangers are also very good at the Stealth and Perception parts.  They have equally good knowledges for identifying foes, and while they lack Acrobatics in class they do have Survival.  Druids tend to have decent Stealth scores and can turn into birds or snakes or other tiny animals to scout ahead.  They have sky-high Perception and Survival bonuses and decent foe identification.  Monks travel fast and are good at Stealth and Perception.  Wizards can cast divination spells or potentially ask their familiars to scout.  Spellcasters might be able to ask local plants or animals about things through spells such as speak with animals or speak with plants.
If the rogue does get caught, then what happens?  Spellcasters often have running-away spells.  Druids can wildshape and fly or burrow away.  High-level rangers might be able to burrow away or ride on their trusty animal companion, though rangers are also in serious trouble if caught.  Monks can run away faster than most people and animals can chase them.  Our theoretical rogue doesn’t have any class abilities or mechanisms that let hir escape if detected.
So yes, rogues make good scouts.  Other classes also make good scouts.  There’s no reason to pick a rogue over any of the other classes that also bring scouting to the table.

This used to be the rogue “thing”.  Trap finding and disabling was what rogues had that no one else could do, and traps are nasty enough that people overlooked a rogue’s other mechanical weaknesses.  Paizo decided that having one essential element of the game tied up in one class was poor design, and I agree.  However, dealing with traps is no longer a rogue’s sole domain.  Various archetypes give trapfinding to several classes.  Trapper and urban rangers both deal with traps, as do archeologist bards and seeker oracles.  Since they aren’t the only trap finders anymore, rogues must compete with other classes on their other (non-trap related) merits.

In out of combat roles, rogues have a lot of options.  They can only pick two or three, as they’re all very skill-intensive.  While that’s more than many other classes can say, a well-planned party can still bring all major roles to the table without having to deal with a rogue’s weaknesses.

So far we’ve covered out of combat roles.  The rogue also has to have a combat role.  Pathfinder is all about the combat- skills are an important sub-system, but the meat of the game is killing things and taking their stuff.  If a class doesn’t have an effective combat role, it’s simply unusable as a class.

Light Fighter
A light fighter might deal less damage than other people on the field, but ze is there to help the team.  Ze goes around and provides flanks, comes from the side to protect mages and other unarmored targets, might provide aid actions against hard-to-hit foes, and is a generally useful secondary melee fighter.
Rogues are not good light fighters.  Monks move much better around the battlefield and can potentially stun or grapple foes.  Fighters can be heavily-armored “light fighters” with armor training.  Barbarians can move around the field faster than rogues can and do a better job protecting casters from foes coming in from the back.  Cavaliers, mounted rangers, and shifter or animal companion druids all fill a light fighter’s role much better than a rogue does.

Damage Dealer
I’ll get much more in depth into damage comparisons next time.  For now, I’ll leave it at rogue damage output sucks.  Even in the best situation imaginable, (low-AC, flanked, sneak-attackable foe), rogues do less damage than any other melee damage dealer in the game (with the possible exception of monks).  Rogues have ¾ BAB, bad weapon proficiencies, and class-based damage that only applies some of the time.  If what you’re looking for is damage, bring a fighter, barbarian, ranger, or magus.  Inquisitors and druids work too.  Whatever you do, don’t bring a rogue.

With a well-balanced party, other people can fulfill all the rogue’s roles split up among other players, leaving a rogue second-best at everything.  Why bring one?

Hello everyone!

This is my first attempt at a blog.  It'll discuss the things that I care about the most- games, mostly Pathfinder RPG, feminism, and atheism.  I develop supplemental Pathfinder material and will spend a lot of time discussing the development process and game design.

Hope you all enjoy!