For all the time I’ve spent on expert paths, and a lesser extent master paths, I really haven’t spent much on champion paths.
I think this is partly because I’ve got a good handle on expert paths and what they should do, and they’re easy to work on. Master paths aren’t as easy, but at least I can see what they should be like and have an idea of the resources I’ll use to create them.
Champion paths aren’t available until you’re level 14. Unlike the other paths that are intended to be fairly interoperable, a character has to meet certain requirements to qualify for a champion path.
Paths are analogous to classes in other D&D games, and a class you have to qualify for is (in most editions) referred to as a ‘prestige class’. It would seem evident, then, that prestige classes would be a good place to look for potential champion paths.
Looking over the prestige classes in the core book, they’re still more or less generic. This is not unreasonable if we think of them as examples.
It’s actually kind of convenient that champion paths have only three levels, spaced three levels apart. We can concentrate prestige class abilities more tightly in the path, but still gain them at a level-appropriate pace. That is, even though there can be big jumps in ability between path level, they actually happen three levels apart, and thus are not gained as quickly as being on consecutive path levels might suggest.
I’m definitely going to have to give some thought to how spell casting works. I’m pretty sure the standard D&D style isn’t going to suit this game, because of how the paths and feats and whatnot interact. Prestige classes that involve spell casting… assume I’ll come up with something and I’ll come back to it later. Wednesday is ‘S’ day, so I’ll try to have something by then.
- Arcane Archer: Enhance arrow is certainly useful, but the other abilities (imbue arrow, seeker arrow, phase arrow, etc.) are the flavorful abilities. Most of these abilities are usable once per day, while enhance arrow is unlimited. The simplest thing would be to have each path level give a step of enhanced arrows and one step of the other abilities. This only gives three pairs, though, and this is a ten-level prestige class. I’d be happy to give the middle three pairs (the enhance arrows and other abilities from levels 3 through 8). Free weapon qualities and special abilities (commit for scene — I want them shooting lightning burst arrows around corners and through walls regularly, but not constantly spammed).
- Arcane Trickster: I don’t know that I want to keep increasing the sneak attack damage, but ranged legerdemain, impromptu sneak attack, tricky spells, invisible thief, and surprise spells are nice to pick up.
- Assassin: This is largely a numbers class, but death attack, true death, quiet death, swift death, and angel of death are candidates. The sneak attack bumps, uncanny dodge, and save bonus against poison — all of which are slowly incremented — don’t really appeal. I might need to look to other sources such as FantasyCraft and Iron Heroes for better ideas.
- Dragon Disciple: Tough one. Bloodline mojo is handled more or less entirely by the expert path, so there isn’t really anything to be granted. More/other draconic abilities (dragon bite, blindsense, dragon form, etc.) are probably the best approach.
- Duelist: Probably won’t make this a champion path, it seems more appropriate by its nature to be an expert path.
- Eldritch Knight: This one’s a drag, which is understandable because the class is basically a bandaid to fix multiclassing martial and arcane classes. There are almost no special abilities to speak of, just full base attack bonus, almost full spells per day advancement, and some bonus combat feats. I can imagine a master path to integrate casting and armor might solve the problem better.
- Loremaster: Generic-sounding abilities (secrets ever other level and lore most of the others)… not a great model for a champion class, since these are supposed to be very specific. Might be usable as a template for champion classes, but… looking at the class features, this is almost entirely a numbers class. Never mind.
- Mystic Theurge: Patch for fixing multiclass arcane/divine casters. Spell synthesis (cast two spells, one from each class) is kind of cool, but the rest might not even matter.
- Pathfinder Chronicler: Social skill monkey… I’m not sure exactly how I’d work this one. I’ll have to come back to it.
- Shadowdancer: Shadow illusion, summon shadow, shadow call, shadow jump, shadow power, shadow master. Most of the rest could probably be done away with, since many of the abilities could be picked up as feats.
On the one hand, contrary to my opening thesis, only some of these prestige classes would actually make good champion paths. This is a little bit because of how generic they are, and in some cases almost entirely because they’re patches for multiclassing or basically numbers classes (the lore master has potential, but the secrets are mostly bonuses to abilities… boring).
Still, it’s mostly because there is just a little bit too much per prestige class to fit in a three-level path, without having too many moving pieces and without having anything Really Really Cool.
I more or less expected this outcome though. To complete a 10-level prestige class, the latest a character can start is as their eleventh character level. This is somewhat lower than champion paths start, but almost exactly where the master path starts. A 10-level class, taking in completion, probably feels like a major facet of the character’s identity… which is a characteristic of their expert path.
Considering the abilities granted by the prestige classes above, they seem to be fairly utilitarian, and in most cases of interest could do with an extra level to grant abilities. In some cases (dragon disciple and shadowdancer in particular) they feel like they are specializations of a type: harnessing the power of draconic blood, and embracing the use of shadow.
It might be possible that 5-level prestige classes could make good champion paths, but I’ve almost concluded that 10-level prestige classes would be better modeled as master paths than as champion paths.
I’m starting to think that what I’ll really need for the champion paths is a framework to design something more or less unique per character. In fact… ooh. What if instead of having prerequisites for a champion class, the champion class framework takes abilities gained from the basic, expert, and master paths and amplifies them somehow?
I don’t know how exactly that will work, but it feels like an exciting option to explore.