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I Put a Spell on You

First, we want to apologize for not hitting our deadline with the fulfillment tool for our Kickstarter rewards. We told you it would be ready by the end of March, and we missed that deadline. Later this week we are doing a review of the functionality with the technology team from Paizo, and then we'll be able to announce a revised availability date. We sincerely apologize for this delay, and we know you are anxious to get your Rewards ASAP.

Next, I'd like to mention that we have re-opened the job request on our career site ( goblinworks.com/jobs ) for a 3D Character Modeler. If you have experience with 3DsMax and Unity, and have worked on a shipped videogame project, we'd love to hear from you.

Finally, a brief status update: The team is working hard toward their April 15 goal to deliver the first major milestone. We are starting to see systems come together for testing purposes, and it's exciting! Yesterday I ran a Macintosh build of the client on my Mac Mini, which was very cool. The team is implementing a variety of basic systems for this milestone, including some monster spawn sites, chat, a basic combat system, and lots of tests of the graphics pipelines, shaders, character models, and more.

For this week's development blog, designer Stephen Cheney takes us into the arcane world of spellbooks and spellcasting!

Cantrip or Spell?

As happens a lot these days, you're getting the unvarnished "we had this idea one week, presented it to the major stakeholders the next, and nobody had an immediate objection so you get to see it the week after that" design ideas. Keep in mind that any of these ideas can and most likely will change (potentially drastically) as we move deeper into implementation.

We've mentioned previously the basic idea of spells in Pathfinder Online, but here's a brief refresher. While this discussion focuses primarily on wizards and sorcerers, clerics and other divine spellcasters are built on similar but not identical systems. We're still in the early stages of our work on cleric spellcasting, so it's a little early to get into the details of divine casters vs. arcane casters.

The bread and butter attacks for most arcane spellcasters will be Cantrips, which are very similar to weapon attacks for non-magical classes. They're particularly similar to attacks for bows. You'll learn these attacks as part of improving your character, you'll slot them onto arcane weapons (wands and staves), and you'll be able to use them over and over again as the situation demands it. These attacks respect the keywords on the weapon and consume charges in a way that's similar to bows using up arrows (in other words, you'll have a limited number or charges in combat, but you can refill your charge container after combat). These attacks are inspired by wizard schools, sorcerer bloodline features, and existing level 0 spells, but you'll find some new ideas in the list so we can provide a variety of useful attack types. Cantrips in Pathfinder Online will remain very useful even at high level, much more so than cantrips in the tabletop game. But, generally speaking, cantrips exist so we can let you use a magical attack over and over even though your true spells are limited in number.

Spells are what we're talking about for the rest of this post. They represent big and impressive effects based on the level 1-9 spell lists. You'll only get to use a handful of them per Refresh, but they're potent enough to really change the momentum of a fight when you whip them out. (And because we haven't mentioned it in the blog in a while, a "Refresh" is something you can do a limited number of times per day while out of combat that resets your Refresh feats.)

Elements of a Spell

Spells have two major elements that differ from normal attacks or utility effects: level and components.

The level of a spell is based on the traditional nine levels, and the effects you expect to see will generally be the level you expect to see them (unless we absolutely feel like something iconic is better balanced for the system elsewhere). We may mine expanded sources or invent some new spells to fill various levels to make sure there's a good variety of options across the board, but we do plan to retain a lot of the idiosyncratic feel of how spell levels are arranged.

The main thing the level of the spell indicates is how many keywords it supports, and thus its potential base damage. Unlike cantrips, which read the keywords on the wand or staff, a spell reads the keywords on the caster. Your class feature slot (school for wizards, bloodline for sorcerers) provides more and more basic keywords as you improve it, and those keywords are ones that support that specialty's spells. Thus, a high-level evoker will have the full variety of keywords likely to appear on high-level Evocation spells. Some schools share a lot of keywords, while others might not share many at all. As a result, an evoker might not be the best at necromancy spells (which don't share a ton of similarities), but he'd still do well when casting damaging Conjuration and Abjuration spells, which have more keyword overlap with Evocation spells.

Additionally, you can acquire metamagic keywords. We're currently envisioning them as long-term buffs applied by other Refresh abilities, so you can change your metamagic loadout on the fly (to some degree). All spells expect an increasing number of metamagic keywords as their levels increase, until 8th and 9th level spells expect four at a time. This is something of a departure from tabletop, but the flavor is preserved: In addition to essentially being a wild card keyword slot to upgrade a spell's potency, your choice of metamagic alters the stats of your spells. If you're running with Extended metamagic active, your spells will last longer; if you're running Widened, your AoEs will be bigger; and so on. At high levels, two casters of the same school may be tossing out the same spells with all keywords fulfilled, but their spells will differ significantly based on which metamagic keywords they prefer.

Spells can also use components. Spells that don't are "simple." Spells that use just essences (a magical crafting component) are "magical." Spells that use specific material components (generally alchemical crafting components) are "exotic." These work similarly to the simple/martial/exotic divide for weapons and increase the spell's base damage or other measure of potency with each step. The rarer spells use components that are more finicky to deal with and keep track of, and thus can be more potent.

To use spells that require components, you'll have to dedicate your belt slot to a spell component pouch. Only components in the pouch will be accessed by your spells (which should also keep you from accidentally casting a fireball with the haul you were taking to the alchemist). This will appear as a special section of your inventory that you can drag components into when not in combat, and which will have a limited spaced based on the Quality of the bag. Speaking of Quality, your spell component Quality matters: You need to have a minimum Quality equal to the spell's level × 20 to cast the spell. If you're casting a level 3 fireball, you need at least Quality 60 on the component.

Finally, the majority of the details of a spell are calculated similarly to cantrips and other attack and utility actions. That is, single target attacks will be more potent than area-effect attacks, attacks with a lot of secondary effects will be less damaging than a purely destructive spell, and so on. As noted, spells, due to their limited nature, will be using a much more powerful algorithm than attacks you can use repeatedly.

Preparing Spells

For wizards in Pathfinder Online, we're blurring tabletop's line between "preparing your spells" and "assembling a traveling spellbook." (The rest of this post is relevant to wizards; we're not quite ready to talk about how sorcerers use spells yet.)

New spells may enter the game as loot, or through spell research. They'll appear as books you can either use directly or disassemble to remove individual spells. Once you have individual spells, you can copy them. This requires a Scriptorium crafting station, skill in Spellcraft, and paper and ink components of at least that much Quality. You could also sell or buy spells piecemeal on the market.

Once you've gotten up to six spells that you want to combine into a single book, you again visit the Scriptorium. This time, you need Spellcraft skill level and binding components (leather for book covers and thread for stitching) with a rating based on the total levels of spells to be contained in the book. The formula is ([Highest Level Spell] x 20 + [Total Levels of all other Spells] x2.6); essentially, to make a book with all six slots devoted to 9th level spells, you'll need nearly maximum Quality binding components, so even high level Wizards might keep some lower-level standbys in their books. You get to configure what order the spells go into the book (and, thus, what number keys they'll be bound to when the book is used).

Note that spells never appear anywhere on a wizard's character record, nor do they cost XP to purchase. If you find a really cool spell, you'll be able to use it immediately (if you can cast spells of that level; see below). But if you lose a spellbook and don't have backups in your storage, you'll have to track those spells down again via the markets or other sources. A wizard's library is a significant thing, and being able to potentially record every spell that exists in at least one of your books is balanced against the risk that sudden reverses in fortune may leave you with no spells at all.

Casting Spells

Once you have a spellbook that you've either handmade or acquired from another source, you can equip it into a wondrous item slot. When you use your wizard's "Spellbook" Refresh feat, your weapon attacks are replaced by the spells from the spellbook.

Of course, you need to have trained up sufficiently to use all the spells. Since wizards won't actually be learning the spells directly, much of their advancement progression comes in improving the levels of their spell slots. These slots are associated with the spellbook feat, and you get two 1st level slots automatically when you first get the feat.

So, say a starting wizard acquires a spellbook with a 3rd level spell, a 2nd level spell, and three 1st level spells. That wizard only has two 1st level slots. The 3rd and 2nd level spells will begin grayed out and unavailable: the wizard can't cast them yet. All three 1st level spells will be usable, however. When the wizard casts one of them, it also will gray out because it has now been used. The wizard could then cast either of the remaining spells, but then he'd be out of slots and the whole book would gray out. After using a Refresh, both the slots and used spells in the book would reset.

Wizards improve their spell slots in a kind of "pyramid" formation: you can't improve a spell slot's level if doing so would mean you no longer have any slots of that level (unless it's the lowest level slot and you have all six slots). For example, a player could not turn 3-2-1 into 3-3-1 or 3-2-2 but could turn 3-3-3-3-3-2 into 3-3-3-3-3-3). You also need to meet the prerequisites for the first time you reach a level, but there aren't additional prerequisites for upgrading later slots to the same level except for the pyramid rules.

Wizards may eventually get a second spellbook feat, allowing both wondrous item slots to be filled with a spellbook and providing the wizard with up to 12 spells per Refresh.

On the Limitations of Power

To be a fully competent wizard you'll need to use up one or both wondrous item slots, your belt slot, and most of your Refresh-ability slots, and have wizard-specific feats equipped in several of your passive slots. That may seem like a heavy commitment for just six or twelve spells per Refresh—after all, it's certainly less than the number of spells a high-level caster can turn out in the tabletop game. There are several reasons for this change.

The first is that spells are going to be better than most other Refresh feats, potentially by a large margin. As a result, they come with an opportunity cost in equipment and feat slots to justify their power (and to prevent spells from being a no-brainer cross-role slotting choice for all lightly armored characters.)

The second reason is that there is significantly more versatility in a wizard's spells than may be apparent at first glance. Remember that you can generally take several Refreshes per server day, so you're actually being limited to six or twelve spells per combat, not per play session, which is more in line with how spells are used in tabletop. If you carry multiple books, you can easily tune your capabilities between combats. See a camp of cold-based creatures up ahead? Time to swap your general book for your book of fire spells. Additionally, when a lot of players think of a wealth of spell slots, they're also worried about being able to use lower level slots for long-term buffs. However, keeping a defensive or utility effect such as mage armor active probably won't be tied to your spellbook—instead, it might be a passive ability that you choose in to keep in place. To put it another way, you never need to expend a spell on mage armor because that's just one of your normal choices for your always-on defense slot.

The third reason that we want wizards to commit to carrying spellbooks and allocating useful item slots to their spellcasting is to balance equipment choices and power level between casters and noncasters. In the tabletop game, casters have a dramatically different power curve than other characters. They start out heavily reliant on help from the rest of the party to get through an adventure, but eventually become powerhouses that make the rest of the party jealous. Whether or not you think this is a problem in tabletop, Pathfinder Online is targeted at being most similar to the play experience inherent in tabletop's mid-level range. This is the "sweet spot" where casters and non-casters are most closely balanced in capabilities. In Pathfinder Online, low-level wizards will rarely have to fall back on a dagger or crossbow, but high-level wizards will be unable to just blow through a huge stack of spells to dominate an encounter.

As you can see, in Pathfinder Online we've made a number of changes to expectations, but we think they're all in service to making a smoother power curve and an easier set of controls for casters—and providing a balance more conducive to everyone having fun in combat at all levels.

Discuss this blog on paizo.com.