Sometimes a gaming group in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game wants to engage a party that diverges from the normal metabalance of the game. Frequently this arises when a majority of the party (or all of it) want to play spellcasters. There is more than a little wisdom in the statement “this is its own punishment” in that a party of this nature often runs into extreme workday issues and complications dealing with monsters in melee or skill challenges they are ill-suited to. Creative spellcasters can still manage these issues (at least for a few battles or encounters) but a larger issue with these games is one of diversity. Spellcasters tend to think in similar patterns and if classes are capable of cross-pollination (wizards and alchemists for instance) the same spells are going to start showing up over and over. How then to protect the unique nature of spells in a game?
Altered State: Spell Sourcing
In a recent campaign, we have started exploring the concept of “spell-sourcing.” Spell-sourcing is simple enough in action. A player is “given” the Core Rulebook as a base spell source. They may also select one other group of Paizo products (we recommend three) or a 3rd Party publisher they may draw other spells from. Additionally, they may sacrifice Core Rulebook spells for a second group of 3pp spells or another selection of books from Paizo. The effect on spellcasters has been fascinating.
With the in-game explanation of magical traditions with protected bodies of lore explaining this metagame decision, the mechanical nature fades rapidly into a story based one. The sorcerer (with access to Kobold Press and Rite Publishing spells) is an entirely different animal than his wizard friend (with Core Rulebook access and spells from Ultimate Combat, Ultimate Magic and Inner Sea Magic). Here is a quick run-down of considerations:
- Flavor – Spellcasters with different and limited sources feel VERY different from each other and make even high caster presence games have unique traditions of magic from caster to caster. It also has an unexpected magical society interaction as player characters try to seek out their own for further training and new magic.
- Simplicity – Some players struggle with massive bodies of spells to research and select from. The narrow list allows for less time required to make the selections a player wants, less reference they need to have access to, and still protects the variety of multiple casters allowing them access to nearly any spell they want.
- Third Party Balance – Most third party publishers account for the Paizo spell selections when designing but don’t always have the opportunity to account for one another. This can create unusual interactions between spell mechanics that were not necessarily intended but rules as written work to unexpected results. The Core Rulebook plus one selection of a third party publisher gives players the most basic balance environment the designers could have been working with.
- Compartmentalization – If an interaction does prove problematic spell sourcing can target that specific combination and either give a GM a clear idea of what character needs to be removed or censured to correct the issue. Something seem too powerful? Instead of banning it or removing the character with that mechanics, have the Convocation of Mages make that source combination illegal. Now the character must choose to try to “pass” as a member of a similar tradition or use their dangerous powers at their own risk.
- Us and Them – If a party insists on staying 100% same sources, this can also be a boon. It means that the magic of the party has cast them all as member of a similar mystical society and if a second or more traditions present themselves a GM has ready made rivalries with unique powers the party has little to no access too. And a forbidden apple to dangle if the PCs are successful and the magical lore of the second tradition comes into their possession…
Magical spell sourcing may seem complex at first but can simplify even the most liberal of magical environments and interactions. If a group leans majority or totally toward spellcasters it might be a good idea.