Rules Index | GM Screen | Player's Guide

Chapter 4: Variant Rules

Feats and Features

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 192
The Core Rulebook presents a character progression carefully designed to offer plenty of options and depth without overwhelming players with too many choices at once. However, you can use the Pathfinder rules to create an infinite number of variant progressions. If your group wants more powerful characters, specific themes for all characters, or the like, you can implement these variants.

Dual-Class PCs

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 192
Sometimes, especially when you have a particularly small play group or want to play incredibly versatile characters, you might want to allow dual-class characters that have the full benefits of two different classes.

Building a Dual-Class Character

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 192
When building a dual-class character, the primary changes to the character creation process are fairly straightforward. Choose and implement your character’s ancestry and background as normal. Then, when you get to the step of choosing a class, select two classes and add everything from each class except Hit Points and starting skills: initial proficiencies, class features, class feats, extra skill feats and skill increases for rogues, and so on. As always, use the highest proficiency granted for a given statistic. For instance, if one class gave you expert proficiency in Will saves and the other gave you master proficiency in Will saves, you would be a master in Will saves.

Use only the higher Hit Points per level from the two classes. For starting skills, apply the skills automatically granted by each class, and then apply the larger number of additional skills. For instance, a cleric of Shelyn/ranger would gain Hit Points equal to 10 + their Constitution modifier per level, start with the trained proficiency rank in Nature and Survival from ranger and Religion and either Crafting or Performance from cleric, and then gain a number of additional skills of their choice equal to 4 + their Intelligence modifier, since the ranger provides the trained proficiency rank in more additional skills than the cleric does (this example doesn’t include any skills they gained from their background or other sources). This character would also have the deity, divine spellcasting, divine font, and doctrine class features from cleric plus the Hunt Prey, hunter’s edge, and ranger feat class features from ranger.


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 192
Dual-class spellcasters get full access to all the spells of any spellcasting classes they have. For instance, a sorcerer/wizard gets five cantrips in their spell repertoire from sorcerer, five prepared cantrips from wizard, three spontaneous 1st-level spell slots from the sorcerer (with three 1st-level spells in their repertoire), and three 1st-level prepared spell slots from wizard (or four, for a specialist). They keep these spells entirely separate and get the full benefits of both spellcasting class features, even if both classes use the same tradition.

Classes with focus pools get all the Focus Points granted by all of them. These share one focus pool as normal, with the standard cap of 3 maximum Focus Points.

Character Advancement

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 193
A dual-class character gains the class feats and class features for both classes at each level as they advance, with the exception of ability boosts, general feats, skill feats, and skill increases—the character gets each of these benefits only once per level, since both classes would provide the same benefit. (A dual-class rogue/ranger still gets the extra skill feat and skill increase at levels where the other class doesn’t provide them.)

If a character gains the same proficiency rank in a statistic more than once, they still use only the highest rank. In the example above, when the cleric gets Alertness at 5th level, they wouldn’t change their Perception rank, since it was already expert due to the ranger’s initial proficiencies.

Playing with Dual-Class Characters

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 193
Playing a dual-class character certainly gives a character more options, and adding additional spellcasting classes can result in a significantly wider variety of powerful spell effects available to each character. Nonetheless, this sort of dual-classing is more likely to increase the party’s longevity than it is to drastically adjust the level of opponents a dual-class character should be fighting. The increases to saving throw proficiencies and Hit Points make characters somewhat sturdier and able to take on slightly higher challenges, but not every fight should be harder, nor should encounters exceed extreme-threat difficulty.

Dual-classing in two similar martial classes to double up on their advantages can result in characters who, instead of increasing their flexibility, become drastically more powerful in one focus. For instance, a fighter/ranger with the flurry hunter’s edge gains access to incredibly accurate press actions, and a barbarian/fighter has the barbarian’s high damage plus the fighter’s high accuracy. One way around this is to simply disallow combinations that double down on a narrow ability, and instead encourage dual-class characters that open up narrative options and increase the character’s flexibility. The other solution is to raise the challenge from the opposition, treating the party as if the characters were a level higher. However, this is a choice that affects the whole group, even if only one character is built to mow down foes.

Due to the increased number of class feats a dual-class character has, you should limit how much of a benefit a character gets from feats that scale based on the number of feats you have, such as Resiliency feats from multiclass archetypes. Typically, the limit should be half the number of total class feats the character has.

Free Archetype

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
Sometimes the story of your game calls for a group where everyone is a pirate or an apprentice at a magic school. The free archetype variant introduces a shared aspect to every character without taking away any of that character’s existing choices. It can also provide a lighter version of dual-class characters by giving everyone a free multiclass archetype.

Building a Character

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
The only difference between a normal character and a free-archetype character is that the character receives an extra class feat at 2nd level and every even level thereafter that they can use only for archetype feats. Depending on the needs of the group and the theme of the game, you might restrict the free feats to those of a single archetype each character in the group has (for a shared backstory), those of archetypes fitting a certain theme (such as only ones from magical archetypes in a game set in a magic school), or entirely unrestricted if you just want a higher-powered game.

If the group all has the same archetype or draws from a limited list, you might want to ignore the free archetype’s normal restriction of selecting a certain number of feats before taking a new archetype. That way a character can still pursue another archetype that also fits their character.

Playing with Free Archetypes

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
Free-archetype characters are a bit more versatile and powerful than normal, but usually not so much that they unbalance your game. However, due to the characters’ increased access to archetype feats, you should place a limit on the number of feats that scale based on a character’s number of archetype feats (mainly multiclass Resiliency feats). Allowing a character to benefit from a number of these feats equal to half their level is appropriate, as this is the maximum number of feats you could use to take archetype feats without this variant.

Ancestry Paragon

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
Most characters have some elements that connect them to their ancestry but identify more strongly with their class or unique personality. Sometimes, though, a character is the embodiment of their ancestry to the point that it’s of equal importance to their class. For a game where an ancestral background is a major theme and such characters are the norm, your group might consider using the ancestry paragon variant.

Building an Ancestry Paragon Character

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
When creating an ancestry paragon character, instead of starting with one ancestry feat and gaining another at 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th levels, the character starts with two ancestry feats and gains another at every odd level thereafter (3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and so on) for a total of 11 ancestry feats.

Playing with Ancestry Paragon Characters

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
Ancestry paragon characters have a bit more versatility and power than other characters, though their extra abilities are usually limited to themes the ancestry already was suited for. It’s unlikely to affect the game balance of combat encounters, but it might make exploration and social challenges easier for the heroes.

Simplified Ancestries

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
The variants presented so far have mostly been aimed at groups looking to increase their nuance in exchange for greater character complexity. However, sometimes players are looking for something a little simpler instead, or want to increase the complexity in one area and decrease it elsewhere, keeping a rough balance. In games where a character’s ancestry is only incidental and each PC is more defined by their class and individual characteristics, simplified ancestries allows your group to pick an ancestry and go.

Building a Simplified Ancestry Character

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
When choosing an ancestry for a simplified ancestry character, you gain the ancestry’s normal abilities at 1st level, choose a heritage, and gain the appropriate lore feat (Dwarven Lore for dwarves, for example) as your ancestry feat. Simplified ancestry characters never gain ancestry feats beyond that first lore feat. If you want to keep the power level of your game consistent, you can replace the ancestry feats gained at higher levels with general feats.

Simplified Skill Feats

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
The standard system gives feats specifically to spend on skills to let PCs gain fun, skill-based options without feeling like they had to sacrifice a feat that could have improved their class’s core specialties. In some games, especially those focused on combat with little exploration, downtime, or social interaction, the PCs might have more skill feats than they need. The simplified skill feats variant allows you to reduce this aspect of decision-making.

Building a Simplified Skill Feat Character

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
Simplified skill feat characters don’t receive any skill feats, even from their backgrounds. They still gain general feats and can use those to select skill feats if they want a crucial ability. You may want to allow rogues to gain skill feats, but at the normal advancement most characters have, instead of their usual double advancement.

Playing with a Simplified Skill Feat Character

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 194
While you probably won’t need to adjust combat challenges at all for simplified skill feat characters, skill-based challenges—especially social challenges—will be tougher, especially at higher levels where it’s expected characters will have more efficient skill-based abilities due to skill feats. If you prefer more baseline difficulty, you could adjust the expectations down slightly.