Commentary on Lore Warden Changes by Jesse Betz

This story starts back in late May, I had just got my new hardcover, the Adventurer’s Guide. It snuck in around the hype for Starfinder, and I hadn’t really been paying attention to what it was all about. I remember flipping through and getting this inkling that something about this new book felt familiar, but I had ignored it. White Haired Winter Witches taught me that there are only so many names for things, and you had to give something new-that sounded old-the benefit of the doubt. Then, near the back, I found the Lore Warden fighter. That was definitely already a thing.

Okay, not a big deal. I knew the original source, the Pathfinder Society Field Guide had been out of print for some time. I’m not gonna judge slipping a reprint in, especially knowing how the Starfinder sprint to GenCon had undoubtedly really ratcheted up stress levels at Paizo. But, before I could shrug it off and turn away, I noticed that something was different. Uh-oh.

I called up some friends, asked them if they see what I’m seeing. I checked online, putting on my protective gear and wading into the forums. Yup. This wasn’t good, people were not happy.

To broad strokes the issue for those not familiar, the original Lore Warden is a very solid archetype for the fighter that received two very sweet ability trades. First, you got to swap out bravery for Combat Expertise. Lose a buff that normally only came up the round after you’d spent a turn running terrified because you just remembered you had it (and now your GM is stuck deciding to rewind play or invalidate your class feature), to gain a gateway feat that unlocked access to a bunch of other really cool feats and abilities. That choice is a no-brainer. Second, you lost armor training and gained a flat +2 to CMB and CMD. When the archetype already removed proficiency with medium and heavy armor, the biggest benefits of armor training go with it. So, again, you replace a less useful ability, with an untyped boost to all the combat maneuvers you’ve just opened up from your free Combat Expertise. Both trades are just better than what you’re losing. This archetype is widely considered one of the best choices you can make when building a fighter. So, naturally, a lot of people built Lore Wardens. I had one rattling around on deck for PFS that used Improved Snap Shot, Combat Patrol, and Stand Still to run around and pin people in place.

The new Lore Warden did not have those things. Now, that doesn’t automatically mean that the new Lore Warden was bad. It was just demonstrably less powerful than what we had before. You still got Combat Expertise, kinda, but now it also cost you a bonus feat, and you didn’t actually get any of the Combat Expertise abilities (at least not until 7th level), instead you just counted as having it for the purposes of prerequisites. That is clearly less good than what you were giving up. The trade out for armor training became something like a lite version of fighter talents, one of which could give you a bonus to specific combat maneuver. While this new selection of abilities was flavorful and exciting (and has design space in it for expansion), it was really overshadowed by being only half as good and much more narrow than what you got before. So, now the Lore Warden was more in tune with what an archetype should be, an equivalent alternative to the base class that provided a way to include flavorful, but not out and out better, options that allow you to match stats with the backstory of your unique character. But it was also a situation where they’d taken away our sweet chromed out toy, with extra lights and buzzers, that we’d been playing with for years, and told us that this new, clearly less awesome, toy-that everyone else had-was what we got now. Most of us didn’t wait to hear about the new toy’s features before getting upset.

For a home game, it is not as much of an issue. You talk to your GM, provide the appropriate bribe of candy or pizza or whining to get them to make the decision you want (or some variation of that) and you get to play your character. But, for most of us, who have limited time to scratch that RPG itch, it was a little different. A vocal subset of Pathfinder players primarily play organized play, and for PFS it isn’t as simple as bribing the GM. Here you’ve got a system that is predicated on as little table variation as possible. Very few options get to exist in this Schrodinger state of being both alive and also alive but with slightly different rules. One choice normally has to die. And in cases where one option was clearly the superior choice, things did not look good for the old Lore Warden. So, with future uncertain, my PFS Lore Warden went to the back of the list. I wasn’t going to spend time plotting the full 12 level build if a key component was likely to change. I settled in to wait and see how this would shake down.

Normally, when a new book comes out, you have about a month before the PFS Additional Resources page is updated, and new content is declared legal for PFS play. For the Lore Warden, we’ve been in this holding pattern for over three months now.

Last Wednesday, Mr. John Compton (Organized Play Lead Developer for Paizo) posted a very special blog to Paizo. For the purposes of PFS the decision was settled, you got a free rebuild into new Lore Warden. The choice does not surprise me. In the interim, I looked into the Adventurer’s Guide a little harder, there were a number of options that had been changed and reprinted there. I also discovered that none of those reprints were just a simple copy/paste job, anything that was going into the book was treated to the same development process as a new freelancer turnover. This book was the tabletop equivalent of a software patch. We’ve seen this before, ‘Unchaining’ classes and chaining others. What did surprise me; however, was that they were updating the PRD (Pathfinder Reference Document) with the new information from the reprints in this book. This was now the official version, full retcon.

I had a friend grumble to me that this was getting out of hand. His Lore Warden had gotten whacked with the NERF bat upside the head twice now, the first time when he had to retrain Hurtful, and now this? He didn’t know if the poor guy was going to recover. I feel his pain. I spend an inordinate amount of time learning and analyzing this game. Each character becomes week’s worth of work, evaluating what will and won’t work, finding new ideas and jotting them down for another new character, getting lost in all this. It is worse when I run a home game, tuning the NPCs to properly challenge a party, eeking out bonuses and abilities for something that is going to see three rounds of game time before the party turns it into a red smear across the battle mat, making sure I know exactly what each ability and spell and power they have does. I love it.

And part of me loves that I now have this one bit of rules minutia that I can reminisce about, one day, gathering my children around and telling them about how, back in my day, being a Lore Wardens used to really mean something *shakes old man fist*.

But, is my friend right? Is this too much? We grew up with a game where the only way to solve ‘problems’ was to provide more content or hit the reset button and print a new addition, and in the words of Rick Sanchez, “We get three or four more of these, tops”. If you couldn’t provide a new option that fixed the issue, you were stuck with it the way it was printed.

Now, we’re in this weird between the time before they figured out how to directly edit the printed material sitting on our shelves, but after these snazzy things called PDFs where we can just download updates. And all these video games have primed us as gamers to accept the concept of a patch. A few weeks ago, Hearthstone changed some of their core cards, either the cost or the ability of what it accomplished. There was some hubbub, but now everyone who plays Hearthstone plays with these new cards. That blows my mind. This was the RPG gaming equivalent of the Unchained Monk just getting put into all Core Rulebooks and all your character sheets being automatically edited to reflect the change. Somewhere somebody flipping the book open and going, “Huh, thought they only had a d8 for HD…” and shrugging because that wasn’t what it said anymore. That is coming. Somehow that will happen. And like with all change, I am both giddy and terrified.

We saw something like this with 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, except they didn’t bother updating printed books and those rapidly became useless. They released update after update to powers and the only place where you could really use to make a PC from was their Character Builder app. That didn’t go so well for them. Paizo has been pretty good about making changes by having them show up in a new publication (jingasa/crane style being exceptions), and generally, seems focused on taking good elements from splatbooks and bringing them into a source that will reach a wider audience. But going forward, how are we going to see companies incorporating this patch-based philosophy into their games? I can see a smaller publisher releasing just PDFs and updating those as their game evolves, adding a change log as necessary. I could also see someone like Monte Cook publishing a system that involves an annual roundup with rules changes and errata tied directly to the cultivated narrative they’re worldbuilding through some sort of Kickstarter project. Something along the lines of, “Did you hear, the archanotheurges discovered a more powerful way to cast magic missile?” or “The interplanar alignment is out of flux, abilities that draw on the shadow planes have become stunted.” or “The Capa Ferro fencing school is in uproar due to Thibault’s newly discovered effortless counter.” And use that pretense to roll all their changes into a really fluff thick product that justifies their rules tweaks. Hopefully, use all that pomp and circumstance to make players excited about NERFs by growing the game world rather than just clunking changes down and smashing the verisimilitude. That would be a step in the right direction.

But, neither of those idea helps Paizo or Wizards. There is no way they would roll back to just selling PDFs, and that heavy curation of the game world really doesn’t work with something that has grown so popular because you encourage the players to strip the setting out of your game and play in their own world. So where does that leave us? Excited and terrified, mostly. Change is coming. And like with RPG rules, they may not get it right the first time.

In the meantime, I’ll be taking a look at the Dirty Fighting feat and trying to decide if Lore Warden is still the way I want to go. Maybe, I can still make it work with a Victor’s Belt, being Bred for War, and some Giant Ancestry? Let me get a pencil…


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