The Pun Is Mightier Than The Sword
Which Is A Pun, So, It’s Kind Of Recursive
Which Is What People Do When I Tell Jokes, They Curse And Recurse
Get It? Get It?
My Talents Are Wasted Here.
(A quick digression (surprised, you are not) as to my random and uninteresting thoughts on Pathfinder 2e and game design. If you just want the mechanics, skip to the next header. The design notes specific to the mechanics are at the very end.)
So, Pathfinder 2 is out, and while I do have some gripes (because if I didn’t, I’d most likely be dead), it’s a worthy successor and is eminently playable. The “three actions/turn” structure helps normalize the “stuff you can do” component by providing a standard unit of “effectiveness” to all actions. The rules interact with each other in subtle ways that are easy to miss is you just read, rather than play. (For example, a critical success is now “Natural 20 or beating the DC by 10 or more”. In combat against level-appropriate foes, it’s unlikely you’ll meet that second criteria unless you roll an 18 or 19… but against slightly lower level foes, the range increases rapidly. This means that while your overall bonuses aren’t scaling up as fast as in PF1, due to changed math, your effectiveness against weaker enemies increases significantly, as criticals in PF2 have a wide range of effects and apply to many things, such as spells and skill use, not just combat. )
Thinking on it now, I could say PF2 reduces the number of components used to define game its game mechanics, vis-a-vis PF1, but has increased the ways in which the components can interact and fit together. A key reason for this, other than trying to make the game less overwhelming for new players, is to reduce (though it cannot eliminate) cheesy combinations and unexpected synergies. Another reason is to make it easier to determine how mechanics, especially player class mechanics, interact. I personally enjoy all the class-specialized mechanics from PF1, how monks have ki and gunfighters have grit and magi (plural of magus, I think) have an arcane pool and cavaliers have… whatever they have, banners or something? I dunno. But there’s a lot of them. (Class mechanics. Not cavaliers. Or, a character class called “Mechanic”. Except in steampunk settings. Where was I?) The good part is that they allow varying granularity of power levels for abilities. If gunslingers gain and spend grit at X/level, and monks gain/spend ki at y/level, the effectiveness of a gunslinger deed and of a ki power can differ to reflect this. Abilities that can be used frequently, or with little resource expenditure, or with low opportunity cost, should be less powerful than those which can be used more rarely or which have a high “buy in” cost.
However, Pathfinder 2 does not go overboard in mechanical simplification, nicely avoiding the trap where every class is identical except for some flavor text. The core classes established some baselines. The recently released playtest docs for the Advanced Player’s Guide reveal that unique class mechanics remain. A good example, and the focus of this article’s rules, is the swashbuckler. The Pathfinder 1e swashbuckler had a pool of panache points to spend on deeds, with various mechanics to replenish the pool. Now, PF2 has a “focus pool” as a general class design concept, which is shared among several classes. Monks, Paladins (now Champions), Wizards, and others all gain focus powers, and spend focus points to invoke them. It would be simple for this mechanic to have been used for the Swashbuckler (and presumably for the eventual release of the Gunslinger) as well.
Instead, Paizo decided to go for a Boolean concept: You’re either in a state of panache, allowing you to gain bonuses or access particular powers, or you’re not. The player doesn’t track point expenditures, just whether their actions cause them to enter or leave panache. While playtests are often changed by release — compare the “public beta” of PF2 to the final game, where entire subsystems were scrapped or heavily modified, including how focus pools work — I am hopeful they will retain this uniqueness. If not, I’ll have to see how this works with the final rules this summer. Yeah, right. Like I’ll even remember I wrote this by this summer.
Before You Go On…
This relies on mechanics from the public playtest of the Advanced Player’s Guide, and, of course, Pathfinder 2. The (legally published, thanks to the OGL and with Paizo’s blessing) rules can be found online either here or here, and, naturally, you can buy the actual physical tome at your FLGS.
Credit Where It’s Due
The Raconteur (Swashbuckler Style)
New Trait: Audience
An ability with the audience trait requires that there be at least one creature, other than yourself, who can hear and understand you in order for the ability to work. Audience abilities thus also have the auditory and linguistic traits and follow all rules regarding those traits. Your wit may sting an enemy or amuse an ally, what matters it that someone is there who can appreciate it. All creatures within 30′ who can hear and understand are considered ‘members’ of the audience for targeting purposes.
A Raconteur bard is somewhat similar to a Braggart, but confuses and befuddles enemies with a non-stop string of comments, jokes, asides, and puns. They are trained in Perform, and may make a Perform check for initiative, via an appropriate quip (removal of sunglasses, opening bars of Who song optional). This has the audience trait.
For example, upon spotting a group of hairy, hyena-like humanoids concealed (poorly) in the bushes ahead, you might say “Beware! I spy a grassy gnoll!” Or, you might not. In fact, please don’t. But, if you do, you can use your Perform skill for your initiative check.
You also gain the Commentary action
(Audience, Swashbuckler, Mental, Emotion)
You offer your sardonic opinion on the situation around you, such as mocking an enemy’s fashion sense or the decor of the room, wondering why the evil overlord doesn’t hire more competent minions, or pointing out the orc bears a resemblance to your teammate’s last nocturnal companion. Choose an enemy in your audience within 30′, whom you can see, and roll a Perform check against their Will save DC.
- Critical Success You gain panache, and your target is Befuddled-2.
- Success You gain panache, and your target is Befuddled-1.
- Failure Nothing happens, except a tumbleweed blows by and there is the sound of crickets chirping.
- Critical Failure A random ally in your audience is Befuddled-1 as they try to figure out the joke.
Regardless of the result, the target of your commentary is temporarily immune to this power for 10 minutes.
The Pun Is Mightier Than The Sword (Feat 1)
(Audience, Emotion, Mental, Swashbuckler)
Prerequisite: Trained in Perform
Requirement You have panache.
Effect: As part of a melee attack, you make a horrible pun.You may apply your Charisma modifier to damage with this attack, instead of your Strength or Dexterity (or other) modifier. This damage is mental damage, not the damage type of your weapon. You must declare you are using this feat before you roll. Your attack gains the following:
- Critical Failure You lose panache and cannot regain it until the end of your next turn. When, oh when, will you find an audience that appreciates your genius?
Setup (Feat 2)
(Audience, Emotion, Mental, Opener, Swashbuckler)
Prerequisite: Trained in Perform, The Pun Is Mightier Than The Sword
Effect You make a cutting remark, to be concluded when the target gets the point in a moment. Make a Perform check against an enemy in the audience within 30′, whom you can see.
- Success Until the start of your next turn, the next time you use an audience ability on the target that deals damage based on your Charisma modifier, add +2 if you are Expert in Perform, +4 for Master, and +6 for Legendary.
- Critical Success As for success, but this applies to all qualifying actions until the start of your next turn..
- Failure Right, moving on. So, how about that food on the elemental plane of air? Is it gassy, or what?
- Critical Failure If you had panache, you lose it, and cannot regain it until the start of your next turn.
(Audience, Emotion, Mental, Swashbuckler)
Prerequisite: The Pun Is Mightier Than The Sword
Effect: When you apply The Pun Is Mightier Than The Sword to a finisher, you add your Charisma modifier as mental damage, rather than replacing another modifier. .
Pun-ishment [Reaction] (Feat 6)
(Audience, Emotion, Mental, Retort, Swashbuckler)
Prerequisite: The Pun Is Mightier Than The Sword
Trigger: A member of the audience within 30′ critically fails an attack, skill, or saving throw.
Effect: If the triggering creature is:
- An enemy: Mock them with a pointed jest, dealing your Charisma modifier in mental damage to them.
- An ally: Help them laugh off their blunder, healing a number of hit points equal to your Charisma modifier.
Hecklers Veto[Reaction] (Feat 8)
(Audience, Emotion, Mental, Swashbuckler)
Prerequisite: Raconteur Style, The Pun Is Mightier Than The Sword
Trigger An enemy in your audience (whom you can see) takes an action with the concentrate trait.
Effect: Make a performance check against the target’s Will DC.
- Critical Success The action is disrupted, and the target takes mental damage equal to your Charisma modifier.
- Success The action is disrupted.
- Failure No effect on target, you lose panache, and you cannot regain it until after the end of your next turn.
- Critical Failure As failure, and you cannot use this reaction until you take a Refocus action.
The target gains temporary immunity to this reaction for 10 minutes, regardless of the save.
Note to GMs: It is not necessary to force the player to actually come up with puns on the spot (indeed, you may rather force them not to….), any more than the rogue needs to disassemble a watch to disarm a trap or the wizard needs to chant in bad Latin. It is assumed the character is witty, even if the player is not, and this is covered by their skill checks. However, if the player chooses to inflict their sense of humor upon the group, a slight bonus or penalty based on the “quality” of their puns may be appropriate. Pelting with dice, or giving them a solid whack with the Hero System 5 Core Rulebook, may also be appropriate. Attention lawyers: I am kidding! Of course! Attention gamemasters: Not kidding. Attention lawyers: I was kidding about not kidding.
Second Note: Those who prefer a little less levity (or justification for bad puns by players) can easily reflavor these abilities to involve any sort of verbal repartee, insults, asides, and criticisms.
This is really rough. I’ve revised these powers, esp. “Pun Is Mightier Than The Sword”, over and over. For those who care for an insight into my “thought” processes, my main algorithm is “Can this be used with every action, or is there some limiting factor?” If something can be used constantly, the net impact needs to be small. However, it also needs to be significant enough to be worth the opportunity cost of picking some other option.
In the case of PIMTTS, after a lot of go-rounds (at one point, it was a reaction, at other points, it had different limiters; I even had a subsystem of rules for the character being unable of think of a good pun and recovering from that, which I dropped. (I am trying to train myself save my instinct for baroque overcomplexity for when I’m doing Old School stuff.) The current version:
- Honors the source material mechanically.
- Is likely to be a slight reduction in damage, as the swashbuckler build still needs high Str/Dex more than high Cha.
- But mental damage will often bypass resistances, allowing the swashbuckler to be more effective against a subset of foes – justifying choosing this over some feat which would apply to all enemies.
I went back and forth several times over whether or not to include a panache requirement. I decided, finally, to include it, firstly because it’s very thematically fitting, and secondly, because all of the other 1st level feats are somehow conditional: All have some explicit or implicit trigger. This also led to a revision. The critical failure used to do damage to your allies from pun fallout. I changed it to “You lose panache”, because, having your joke fall so utterly flat dispirits you momentarily.
”But Old School game are super-rules-lite!”. Oh, my sweet summer child. Go read the grappling rules in the 1e DMG… or note that the Samurai class as first presented in The Dragon had a higher word count than almost the entire “Men & Magic” book of OD&D. The first thing people did after discovering RPGs in the 1970s was write rules. Lots and lots and lots of rules. On whatever subject they happened to personally obsess on, leading to the weirdly mismatched rules density I’ve harped on in many other places.
Harped, hell. More like “the entire string section”! Ha! Get it? It’s a music joke. You see, harps are… sigh. A true genius is never appreciated in his time.
Well, I mean, they’re all fictional. But this one was never written up in an actual third-party sourcebook prior to being mentioned in OOTS. Which makes sense, because it means it can have whatever features Rich Burlew needs it to have for plot purposes.
I think my next “old school walkthrough” is going to be “T.H.E Fighter”, from 1978.