Many Pathfinder Roleplaying Game groups espouse strict “Paizo-only” source guidlines, banning or restricting Third Party products on the principle of balance. Yet so many people can’t seem get a grasp on what that means. Often times “It’s not balanced” is really short hand for “I don’t want to read that book” or “I don’t want to take the time to understand that.” But in releasing the kineticist to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Paizo have made a few things pretty clear about the workday economy of the game, especially when it comes to damage.
Metabalance & Benchmarks: A Review
We have previously discussed workday as a prime balance concept in the core metabalance. This ratio of “resource expended” to “time adventured” is what balances most class capabilities against one another. Generally speaking with the example of damage a fighter (consistent source of variable mid-range damage) grows in strength the longer the day runs where wizard (expended resource, high yield damage) favors “short” workdays. Benchmarking is a design philosophy used by many game designers to layout elements of a system against established elements to test for power balance.
For Example in terms of damage consider these Benchmarks for 5th+ level play:
- Wizard establishes this implied benchmark – “A character can deal 1d6 in damage equal to their level with an expended resource. If there is an additional resistance in play, such as saving throw this attack can hit multiple targets” – Lightning Bolt, Fireball, Cone of Cold
- Rogue establishes another implied benchmark – “Every attack a character can make may have +1d6 every other level if it requires a condition to be met.” – Sneak Attack
- Fighter establishes with the feat Power Attack the implied benchmark – “Every attack can do increasing static damage the more likely it is to miss.”
- These three rules combined to give us variations like alchemist’s bombs (expended resources, +1d6 every other level), mesmerist’s painful stare (extra damage triggered only by mesmerist as only condition, slightly lower damage yield than sneak) or vigilante’s hidden strike (higher damage than sneak for more restricted conditions).
Kineticist and the Metabalance
From a design standpoint the kineticist really lays down some new, clear rules about the potentials of a character (particularly from the damage dealing perspective). Many people will jump right to burn and hand-wave the balance implications. However with gather power, infusion specialization, and composite specialization the class starts to paint a different picture. We begin to see that variability from a system standpoint is worth far more than resources would indicate.
Kineticist implied Benchmarks:
- Damage dealing gains a new extreme = “Damage, if specialized and conditional, can have an output of 1d6 per level per attack.” Note here that we are seeing no resource limit. With a little planning (round 1 gather power, attack) the kineticist hits wizard level damage every other round for an entire workday and often can hit nearly every round of that output at higher levels. This is a continued expression of the variability balance factor seen in Sorcerer versus Wizards (Sorcerer trades variable preparation for more resource slots). The kineticists lack of variability is a clear statement of class ability valuation.
- The value of specialization is clarified = “Locked and limited defensive and damage alteration selections may be used at will if also specialized.” Defensive options for kineticist include temporary hit point force fields, DR, armor bonuses, or shields that require no burn to use.
- Action Economy as a clear balancing factor = “A move action sacrifice can move damage dealing up a factor.” This is again an extrapolation of Sorcerer Metamagic use versus wizards. This was already evident in the Mythic ruleset but it is a good thing to have set in the non-mythic 1-20 progression.
- Kineticist’s broad array of utility talents grants us another clear rule. = “Specialized damage dealing does NOT preclude other class abilities or functions.” Many of the utility talents possess low cost for lengthy durations or zero burn costs for spell-like abilities of up to 5th level spell effects with limited durations. Flight, darkvision and walls of force become possible for limitless usage.
Why does this matter? Kineticist as a Rosetta Stone of Balance.
With kineticist’s abilities so defining for the edges of the Pathfinder system its usefulness in Benchmarking additional rules content is profound. Consider the following Third Party classes up against the Benchmarks of the kineticist:
- Occultist (Radiance House, not the Occult Adventures one) – The update to the ancestral system’s binder is often critiqued for its “infinite workday.” While this is somewhat true the classes most relevant abilities stack up against kineticists every other round of full-power awesome with a 5 ROUND cooldown. So generally speaking the kineticist is effective 2.5 times as often as the occultist. In exchange the occultist has the ability to bind new abilities once a day but is otherwise even more locked into powers per choice. Pretty clearly the class is within the new limits of the kineticist, if not “weaker” than it in some ways.
- Warlock (Flying Pincushion Games) – This class has been the recipient of a lot of design critique. In the age of the kineticist, sadly much of the critique is now misplaced. The class gets oracle revelations (most of which are moderate persistent buffs or tight resource pool high end damage) and a 1d6+Statistic Modifier every other level blast. Sound familiar? In a lot of ways this class was prophetic as that it is a first-cousin equivalent that in long game ends up being slightly weaker than kineticist which makes sense because of its variable access to revelations which allows more elemental options. Even the infamous “Glaive” mechanic becomes irrelevant by the time either class can make iterative attacks as kineticist can infusion specialization kinetic blade giving it a burn cost of zero. Near exact match to kineticist, no burn mechanics but less blast modification range, no ability to boost beyond 1d6 every other level.
- Warlord (Dreamscarred Press) – The warlord and all of its martial maneuver class kin again receive criticism due to renewable workday economics. It should be noted that maneuver use requires specialization. Its recharge mechanics are both prepared use (loss of variability) and have action economy costs. Some of the other martial classes take this further and make the preparation mechanical random. No one maneuver eclipses kineticist’s gather powered fueled blasts in damage potential (few even get close). Higher BABs place this somewhere on the design path between kineticist and fighter.
These examples are just a few of the outliers but so many other amazing classes, spells, mechanics and feats in the body of Third Party work fall clearly within the realm of boundaries defined by kineticist that a GM REALLY may wish to re-evaluate what he or she does or does not allow in game if kineticist is considered for addition to a campaign.
Not everyone wants the kind of game or mechanics described above as part of their home games. If you want to drive home the sanctity of Workday balance in your game then don’t leave kineticist out of the ban-hammer zone. That said keep in mind that extended workday gaming is NOT the general design of the majority of published adventures for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. To explore the outer limits of balance of Workday, a GM needs to run megadungeon scenarios or custom prepare their battles and generally the average session is not going to run past the comparative limits of wizard or kineticist.