Author Topic: Pathfinder's Arcanist class is weaker than Wiz & Sorc, says Paizo Design Manager  (Read 435 times)

Offline Power

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If you ever needed proof that the Dunning-Kruger effect is as strong as ever at Paizo HQ, look no further than this amazing screed. Michael Sayre, a Paizo Design Manager, lends us his nuggets of wisdom on class design regarding PF and PF2E:
Quote from: Michael Sayre
An interesting anecdote from PF1 that has some bearing on how #Pathfinder2E came to be what it is:

Once upon a time, PF1 introduced a class called the arcanist. The arcanist was regarded by many to be a very strong class. The thing is, it actually wasn't.

For a player with even a modicum of system mastery, the arcanist was strictly worse than either of the classes who informed its design, the wizard and the sorcerer. The sorcerer had significantly more spells to throw around, and the wizard had both a faster spell progression and more versatility in its ability to prepare for a wide array of encounters. Both classes were strictly better than the arcanist if you knew PF1 well enough to play them to their potential.

What the arcanist had going for it was that it was extremely forgiving. It didn't require anywhere near the same level of system mastery to excel. You could make a lot more mistakes, both in building it and while playing, and still feel powerful. You could adjust your plans a lot more easily on the fly if you hadn't done a very good job planning in advance. The class's ability to elevate the player rather than requiring the player to elevate the class made it quite popular and created the general impression that it was very strong.

It was also just more fun to play, with bespoke abilities and little design flourishes that at least filled up the action economy and gave you ways to feel valuable, even if the core chassis was weaker and less able to reach the highest performance levels.

In many TTRPGs and TTRPG communities, the options that are considered "strongest" are often actually the options that are simplest. Even if a spellcaster in a game like PF1 or PF2 is actually capable of handling significantly more types and kinds of challenges more effectively, achieving that can be a difficult feat. A class that simply has the raw power to do a basic function well with a minimal amount of technical skill applied, like the fighter, will generally feel more powerful because a wider array of players can more easily access and exploit that power.

This can be compounded when you have goals that require complicating solutions. PF2 has goals of depth, customization, and balance. Compared to other games, PF1 sacrificed balance in favor of depth and customization, and 5E forgoes depth and limits customization. In attempting to hit all three goals, PF2 sets a very high and difficult bar for itself. This is further complicated by the fact that PF2 attempts to emulate the spellcasters of traditional TTRPG gaming, with tropes of deep possibility within every single character.

It's been many years and editions of multiple games since things that were actually balance points in older editions were true of d20 spellcasters. D20 TTRPG wizards, generally, have a humongous breadth of spells available to every single individual spellcaster, and their only cohesive theme is "magic". They are expected to be able to do almost anything (except heal), and even "specialists" in most fantasy TTRPGs of the last couple decades are really generalists with an extra bit of flavor and flair in the form of an extra spell slot or ability dedicated to a particular theme.

So bringing it back to balance and customization: if a character has the potential to do anything and a goal of your game is balance, it must be assumed that the character will do all those things they're capable of. Since a wizard very much can have a spell for every situation that targets every possible defense, the game has to assume they do, otherwise you cannot meet the goal of balance. Customization, on the other side, demands that the player be allowed to make other choices and not prepare to the degree that the game assumes they must, which creates striations in the player base where classes are interpreted based on a given person's preferences and ability/desire to engage with the meta of the game. It's ultimately not possible to have the same class provide both endless possibilities and a balanced experience without assuming that those possibilities are capitalized on.

So if you want the fantasy of a wizard, and want a balanced game, but also don't want to have the game force you into having to use particular strategies to succeed, how do you square the circle? I suspect the best answer is "change your idea of what the wizard must be." D20 fantasy TTRPG wizards are heavily influenced by the dominating presence of D&D and, to a significantly lesser degree, the works of Jack Vance. But Vance hasn't been a particularly popular fantasy author for several generations now, and many popular fantasy wizards don't have massively diverse bags of tricks and fire and forget spells. They often have a smaller bag of focused abilities that they get increasingly competent with, with maybe some expansions into specific new themes and abilities as they grow in power. The PF2 kineticist is an example of how limiting the theme and degree of customization of a character can lead to a more overall satisfying and accessible play experience. Modernizing the idea of what a wizard is and can do, and rebuilding to that spec, could make the class more satisfying to those who find it inaccessible.

Of course, the other side of that equation is that a notable number of people like the wizard exactly as the current trope presents it, a fact that's further complicated by people's tendency to want a specific name on the tin for their character. A kineticist isn't a satisfying "elemental wizard" to some people simply because it isn't called a wizard, and that speaks to psychology in a way that you often can't design around. You can create the field of options to give everyone what they want, but it does require drawing lines in places where some people will just never want to see the line, and that's difficult to do anything about without revisiting your core assumptions regarding balance, depth, and customization.


Offline Nanashi

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Honestly, that's the least of the problems. The whole thing is extremely unfocused and all over the place and lacks a coherent thread. Arcanist are weak because they're higher floor but lower ceiling, Fighters are seen as good because they're easy to build, wizards are broken because they can do anything, so every caster has to be judged in comparison to Wizard, so we need to change what Wizard is?

Even the ultimate conclusion is odd. d20 Modern (where a character can't be a caster till level 4, and spells are generally worse than their 3E counterparts, and being a competent damage dealer requires little investment because guns exist) showed it's not so much that Wizards can do so much, but that non-wizards have comparatively poor versatility options open to them (as the casting classes still far outpower non-casters in d20 Modern) and no amount of making non-wizards better at their one thing will save them.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2023, 07:31:43 PM by Nanashi »