Pathfinder Design Theory 1: The Shadowdancer

One of the things I’d really love to do in Pathfinder is fix the Shadow Dancer. Because it’s such a cool conceptual class concept – the rogue who has learned shadow magic while not sacrificing their rogue-ness – but it falls so badly flat; partly because it was originally designed in the early days of D&D 3.0 when even Wizards of the Coast didn’t really know what they were doing with the system.

Merisiel the iconic rogue as a shadowdancer. (c) 2015

The Shadowdancer has always had the problem that even though the prestige class is FULL of conceptual coolness, it’s let down by its early design – it was one of the first prestige classes designed for D&D 3rd Edition, and because of that its powers are a bit scattershot in nature, it’s a bit frontloaded, its entry requirements are onerous and it’s generally not as powerful as continuing to take those levels as a rogue.

My design goals for my Shadowdancer revamp, therefore, are:

Improve class entry: Pathfinder did a good job of this; class entry was reduced from 8th to 6th level in the Pathfinder revamp. The Perform (dance) skill is problematic for the class because it doesn’t convey any mechanical benefits; it’s a thematic choice but not a mechanically good one, and it eats skill points that could help the character in other tasks (this is a common problem with the Perform skills; from a min-max perspective unless you’re playing a Bard they’re wasted skill points). Combat Reflexes is again not a bad choice but not an optimal one; that feat slot might be better used in other ways. I want to keep the class entry requirements, overall, at two skills and three feats; this will encourage players to enter the prestige class around level 6-9.

Mechanically coherent theming: The major thematic tropes of this class are killing people from the shadows, sneaking in the shadows, and shadow magic. Note the word “shadow” in all of these, not coincidentally it’s also in the class name. Make sure that all the class-specific level-ups are about shadow manipulation.

Mechanically better: Both the 3.x and Pathfinder incarnations of the Shadow Dancer sound cool but tend to be pretty incoherent in play. This goes back to the coherent theming and mechanics.

So next week I’ll post a few design notes and my rough draft of the revised class entry requirements.


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