Powerful Races: Pathfinder Style

I have recently picked up a copy of the Pathfinder Bestiary. It is an essential accompaniment for running the Pathfinder game, as it brings all the core monster in line with the new “D&D 3.75” system. It isn’t as good as it should be in certain areas, but I’m not proposing to review the product in this post. What the book does do is provide rules for building new monsters, calculating Challenge Ratings, applying templates and also presents new rules for using powerful races as player characters. The latter is the thrust of today’s post.

Now, these rules have limited application for HD&D. As you will undoubtedly remember, powerful races will simply have their abilities broken down into a succession of racial talents that players can choose to select, or not, as they advance their characters. There is no such thing as racial hit dice or racial character classes in HD&D. However, the Pathfinder rules are very interesting, in that they try to make the third edition system work properly. It was something that I never managed to achieve, so let’s see how they did.

The following, blue, text is taken from p313 of the first printing of the Pathfinder Bestiary (9781601251831):

Using one of the monsters presented in this book as a character can be very rewarding, but weighing such a character against others is challenging. Monsters are not designed with the rules for players in mind, and as such can be very unbalancing if not handled carefully.

There are a number of monsters in this book that do not possess racial Hit Dice. Such creatures are the best options for player characters, but a few of them are so  powerful that they count as having 1 class level, even without a racial Hit Die. Such characters should only be allowed in a group that is 2nd-level or higher.

For monsters with racial Hit Dice, the best way to allow monster PCs is to pick a CR and allow all of the players to make characters using monsters of that CR. Treat the monster’s CR as its total class levels and allow the characters to multiclass into the core classes. Do not advance such monsters by adding Hit Dice. Monster PCs should only advance through classes.

If you are including a single monster character in a group of standard characters, make sure the group is of a level that is at least as high as the monster’s CR. Treat the monster’s CR as class levels when determining the monster PC’s overall levels. For example, in a group of 6th-level characters, a minotaur (CR 4) would possess 2 levels of a core class, such as barbarian.

Note that in a mixed group, the value of racial Hit Dice and abilities diminish as a character gains levels. It is recommended that for every 3 levels gained by the group, the monster character should gain an extra level, received halfway between the 2nd and 3rd levels. Repeat this process a number of times equal to half the monster’s CR, rounded down. Using the minotaur example, when the group is at a point between 6th and 7th level, the minotaur gains a level, and then again at 7th, making him a minotaur barbarian 4. This process repeats at 10th level, making him a minotaur barbarian 8 when the group reaches 10th level. From that point onward, he gains levels normally.

GMs should carefully consider any monster PCs in their groups. Some creatures are simply not suitable for play as PCs, due to their powers or role in the game. As monster characters progress, GMs should closely monitor whether such characters are disruptive or abusive to the rules and modify them as needed to improve play.

These rules certainly seem better thought out and proportionate. I like the way that they acknowledge the diminishing return you get from playing powerful races at very high levels. Taking the late Game of Souls campaign as an example,  I don’t think anyone can argue that the Scribe of Tam was the equal of the resurrected Tam. I am also pleased that the book states that there can be no universal rules for creating balanced PC monsters. That said, I am not 100% convinced by Paizo’s take on this.

There is no Equivalent Character Level (ECL) in Pathfinder. All creatures simply run off their Challenge Rating (CR) value. The CR is still used to balance encounters and calculate experience points. A CR 4 creature should be roughly the same power as a level 4 character. Which is obviously where the logic for these new rules have come from. However, it does make for some interesting anomalies.

Taking the minotaur that they use as an example, we can see something a little unexpected.

A minotaur is a CR 4 creature, but in Pathfinder (as in regular third edition) the minotaur is a six hit dice creature. The rules state that the minotaur adventuring with a 6th level party should have two additional class levels (CR 4 + 2 levels = level 6). That means that while the rest of the adventuring party has six hit dice, the minotaur actually has eight hit dice: six from its racial HD (CR 4) and two class levels.

Because racial hit dice count for less as the minotaur advances, this gap widens at higher levels. By the time the party are halfway through 6th level (6 HD), the minotaur PC will be a Minotaur Barbarian 3 (7th level with 9 HD). By the time the party are halfway through 10th level, the minotaur PC will a Minotaur Barbarian 8 (12th level with 14 HD).

Does that strike anyone as odd?

Also what is not entirely clear here is how class-independent benefits such as skill points, feats, hit points and saving throw progressions will accrue. If you’re a minotaur barbarian 8 do you have the feats of a 12th level character (which is your CR) or the feats of a 14th level character (your HD)?

So there are still problems to be ironed out. I think that a little more than six paragraphs should have been spent explaining this. Paizo had an opportunity to truly integrate the rules for playing powerful characters with every single monster in the Bestiary, and they blew that chance. Which is a shame. But it is interesting.

Which is really all I had to say on the matter.  If you’re a Pathfinder fan then you may be interested to know that free previews of classes from their upcoming Advanced Player’s Guide will start appearing on the Paizo Blog later this week. We wil see the Cavaliar and Oracle on Friday 13th November; the Summoner and Witch on Friday 30th November; and the Alchemist and Inquisitor on Friday 14th December. I am far from above pillaging these new classes for HD&D.

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4 thoughts on “Powerful Races: Pathfinder Style

  1. I know i’m commenting on an old post but i thought i’d clarify the rules for you, the Minotaur Barbarian 2 character would advance at the same rate as a 6th level character, not a second level character…. meaning when the party hits level 7 the Minotaur would be at 9 hit dice (6 Mino + 3 Barb), he does not advance as a 2nd level character….

    The way it works is you simply treat the CR of the monster as class levels he’s already taken… this was done because pazio decided that HD don’t = class levels…. since monsters of the same hit dice are of differing power… so instead of having hit dice and level adjustments to equal a final ECL(the way 3.5 did it) they instead chose to simply make CR a single number solution to the problem.

    TL:DR – In pathfinder your level is Racial CR + Class levels….

  2. Hi Bob. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    While I understand that the CR is taken as the character’s level, it strikes me as odd that the hit dice of a monster can be so different from the rest of the party. As you say if your example, when the party hits seventh level, the minotaur will be level nine.

    I agree that HD isn’t a true reflection of a monster’s power, because often they have so many HD-independent benefits. But HD is still used to calculate their base attack bonus, saving throws, hit points and skill ranks.

    A 9th level minotaur fighter in a party of 7th level characters would still have an extra +2 to hit, 2d10 hit points, +4 skill points, +1 maximum skill rank and an extra feat just by dint of his HD. And that’s before we start to layer on class abilities.

    I’m not saying it won’t work, or that it doesn’t balance the game better than 3.5. It just strikes me as rather odd.

  3. Erm, actually, I just read the section in the core rulebook. On page 406, in the Monstrous Character subsection, it states this:

    “As a general guideline, you should advise your players to choose races of roughly equal power, using a creature’s racial HD (not its CR) as a general guideline.”

    So that should fix things up for you :)

  4. Thanks for that, I’d managed to miss that section before.

    It does present two conflicting sets of advice, though. Do you use the CR and scale it as presented in the Bestiary or do you simply use HD as advised by the Core Rulebook?

    I guess the point is that no rules for balancing powerful characters apply equally to all races all the time – unless you opt for a radical reinterpretation of the rules as Wizards did with fourth edition. GMs have to take each powerful race in isolation and decide how best to integrate it into the party.

    One thing I hope to see from the Advanced Players Guide or the Gamemasters Guide is a little more guidance in this area: perhaps a number of powerful races represented as potential PCs.

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