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A Conjunction of Spheres

A Guide to Drop Dead Studios’

Spheres of Might

(Image Source: Wikipedia)

“Master: what, then, lies beyond the Heavenly Spheres?”

“Beyond the Spheres? Why, everything that matters, of course.”

The Links

  1. Preamble

  2. Talent Themes

  3. Spheres and Talents

  4. Practitioners and Spheres Archetypes

  5. Building a Practitioner

  6. Sample Spheres Builds

  7. The Spheres Action Tracker

Other Guides and Content

As Allerseelen (Community Use Policy)

As All Souls Gaming (Commercial License)

Legal

This guide uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Paizo Inc., which are used under Paizo's Community Use Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This guide is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Inc. For more information about Paizo's Community Use Policy, please visit paizo.com/communityuse. For more information about Paizo Inc. and Paizo products, please visit paizo.com.

The Spheres of Might system and all associated content is the exclusive copyright of Drop Dead Studios.

The content of this guide is Copyright 2016 – 2020, All Souls Gaming.

Change Log

  • 3/2/20: Spheres Apocrypha: Armor Talents added.

  • 3/15/20: Spheres Apocrypha: Dipsomania talents added. Also added a review of the Runic Knight Magus archetype.

  • 3/16/20: Finished reviewing the Stupor Monk from Spheres Apocrypha: Dipsomania.

  • 3/18/20: Reviewed talents from Debilitating Talents and the Conqueror’s Handbook through the Equipment sphere.

  • 3/21/20: Finished the remaining talents from Debilitating Talents and the Conqueror’s Handbook.

  • 5/2/20: Jester’s Handbook finished through the Boxing sphere.

  • 5/4/20: Finished content from the Jester’s Handbook and various class features introduced in Conqueror’s Handbook.

  • 5/10/20: Added the Disciple of Goibniu Blacksmith archetype from the Sidhe Court Archetypes book.

  • 5/13/20: Reviewed practitioner feats and added them to the feats section. Not sure why I didn’t do this before. Just an oversight, I guess.

  • 5/14/20: Added Youxia Handbook talents through the Barroom sphere, including new sections for (stance) talents. Also working on a vastly improved revamp of the “From A to B: Talent Themes” section that divides things in an easier-to-understand way.

  • 5/16/20: Updated Youxia Handbook talents through the Boxing sphere.

  • 5/17/20: Updated Youxia Handbook talents through the Dual Wielding sphere, and reworked a bunch of Dual Wielding talent ratings to reflect my thoughts nowadays. Hey, I wrote those when I was a younger, more innocent man.

  • 5/19/20: Updated Youxia Handbook talents through the Equipment sphere, with attendant reworkings of ratings.

  • 5/25/20: Updated Youxia Handbook talents through Guardian sphere. Reworked a lot of Guardian’s talent ratings, as I didn’t give a fair shake to many of them. It’s…a really good sphere.

  • 5/27/20: By popular request, the Leadership sphere has now been reviewed! I like it quite a bit. Good job, Drop Dead.

  • 6/1/20: Updated Youxia Handbook talents through the Scoundrel sphere. Reworked Lancer, Open Hand, and Scoundrel ratings, and continued to put together a revised version of the Talent Themes section.

  • 6/2/20: Updated Youxia Handbook talents through the Trap sphere.

  • 6/3/20: Finally finished all the talents in the Youxia Handbook, and completely overhauled the Talent Themes section. Much more nuanced now.

  • 6/8/20: Reviewed the Acupuncturist Investigator archetype, the Beastmaster Hunter archetype, and the Sundering Hand Monk archetype.

  • 7/19/20: Reviewed the Grinning Brigand UnRogue archetype. Mostly just a bit of a lull until we start getting more Spheres Apocrypha books released on the Wiki.

  • 7/23/20: Reviewed talents from Debilitating Talents 2. This was a pretty small update for Spheres of Might, with only two talents in Scoundrel and one in Warleader getting added. The two new Scoundrel talents are quite nice, though.

  • 7/23/20 Addendum: Also made a huge overhaul to the guide’s format. It’s now split up into seven parts to facilitate faster browsing. Sorry if that’s an inconvenience to anyone—I was just getting tired of it taking forever to do even simple text editing.

  • 8/3/20: Reviewed talents from Alchemy Poisons 2 and Pugilist’s Handbook. Barfighter Striker will have to wait for a bit, though.

  • 10/22/20: Been a while since I had any new content to review for Spheres of Might! Got the infrastructure in place for all the new archetypes introduced in Archetypes of Power 2, and reviewed the new Scholar material impositions and Iron Chef Blacksmith chef’s insights. Still loving the Iron Chef.

  • 11/21/20: Still making my way through the backlog of archetypes available in Spheres of Might. No progress on the core class updates, but I finished the Laughing Hyena (Sentinel), Barfighter (Striker), and Adamantine Scientist (Technician). Adamantine Scientist is the favorite, all the way.

  • 11/22/20: Added the Physician (Alchemist) and Minstrel (Bard) archetypes. Holy crap, where has the Minstrel been all my life!?

  • 11/29/20: Added the Glory Seeker (Occultist) archetype. Fun fun fun.

Table of Contents

The Links

Preamble

Talent Themes

Spheres and Talents

Practitioners and Spheres Archetypes

Building a Practitioner

Sample Spheres Builds

The Spheres Action Tracker

Other Guides and Content

As Allerseelen (Community Use Policy)

As All Souls Gaming (Commercial License)

Legal

Change Log

Table of Contents

An Introduction to the Spheres

Before We Get Started

What This Guide Is And Is Not

The Rating Rubric

The System at a Glance

The Talents

The Spheres

The Practitioner Classes

Martial Traditions

Practitioner Modifiers

The Battered Condition

Legendary Talents

Martial Focus

Stance Talents

Associated Feats

Back Matter


An Introduction to the Spheres

After some experience interacting with other Pathfinder players and GMs, I think I can safely say that a consistent criticism leveled at the system is that martial combat—i.e., combat that involves no spellcasting—is boring. Whereas spellcasters get nigh-infinite versatility and exponentially increasing power, martial classes essentially get to hit things harder, shoot things better, and maybe pull out a few party tricks like tripping or grappling. Even when martial classes have some demonstrably cool options available, such as Style feats, Deific Obediences, Damnation feats, etc., there’s often not great incentive to take them. Why not? The slightly complex answer is that as player characters and enemies scale in power, each side becomes more and more capable of annihilating the other in a single round. Can even the mightiest enemy stand up to a Gunslinger with haste, Deadly Aim, and Rapid Shot, putting out six attacks per round that target Touch AC and add Dexterity to damage? Probably not. How about a Maximized disintegrate? No? Thought not. As armor class and other defensive countermeasures become gradually outmoded, only two things count: acting first in initiative order, and having enough firepower to put down the enemy before they return the favor. For this reason, high-level combat is often referred to as “rocket tag.” He who goes first, goes last. 

Moreover, the Pathfinder action economy doesn’t exactly encourage creative play. If you want to get the most damage, you have to get the most attacks; if you want to get the most attacks, you have to perform full attack actions; if you want to perform full attack actions, you’re limited to one five-foot step per round. Hence, we place giant bags of HP next to each other and let them whack unimaginatively at each other with sticks until one of them keels over. The fact that the Fighter can perform a Bleeding Critical or the Rogue can pull off a Sneak Attack really just changes how quickly that bag of HP deflates, not the fundamental nature of the encounter. Combat maneuvers are sort of a niche case in this model, but even they tend to get abandoned or underutilized because they don’t contribute strictly to damage output.

So, as we say in research, we’ve established a gap. A dark and stormy night. The stage is set. Now we pose the question: what if things didn’t have to be that way?  It’s the very question that prompted Drop Dead Studios to introduce its Spheres supplements. Spheres of Power was their first large-scale foray into 3PP content for Pathfinder, and aimed to completely replace the prepared/spontaneous vancian magic system with flexible “sphere” abilities—thematic packages of spellcasting content like Light, Weather, Telekinesis, etc. that could be used at will throughout the day but that could be supercharged with a finite reservoir of spell points. Following the critical success of SoP, Drop Dead released Spheres of Might, which built on much of the preexisting SoP infrastructure in order to give martial characters more interesting choices: in contrast to core Pathfinder martial classes that need several layers of feats to fulfill a combat purpose, Spheres martials are essentially ready to go at 1st level; in contrast to the finicky weapon proficiency requirements of core Pathfinder, Spheres allows characters to choose martial traditions that grant thematic packages of proficiencies; in contrast to the full attack actions of core Pathfinder, Spheres focuses on making attacks as standard actions, leading to greatly increased battlefield mobility and positioning. I’ve played at tables with both systems, and to my eyes, Spheres combat is much more dynamic, fast-paced, creative, and meaningful, while at the same time maintaining a balanced power curve. If you’ve been considering investigating the system, perhaps this guide will be what swings the door open. I certainly hope it does.

With best regards for a good game,

Allerseelen

Reddit: /u/Allerseelen

Twitter: @AllSoulsGaming1

Before We Get Started

Just as omelettes aren’t made without breaking eggs, so too does Spheres of Might perform a pretty radical overhaul of core Pathfinder mechanics. I find these reforms more intuitive in many ways, but long-time Core GMs might have an adjustment period before they’re truly comfortable with what’s going on at their table. Let’s lay down some ground rules first, shall we?

What This Guide Is And Is Not

It’s always helpful to clarify the scope of your inquiry before you begin, no? This guide is my attempt to give Pathfinder players and GMs a comprehensive look at Drop Dead Studios’ Spheres of Might system. It reviews every sphere (except for Tech, which is basically a system unto itself, and not thematically appropriate to every game), every talent, and every practitioner class. Where math is called for to justify my ratings, I’ll use math, but this guide is also unrepentantly one person’s opinion. You may love a talent that I absolutely trash, and that’s just gonna have to be what it is. My experiences GMing, playing in campaigns, and listening to actual plays of other people playing campaigns may have left me with different opinions of how often a given circumstance arises, how useful certain effects are, etc. I base many of my ratings off of median CMD and save scores aggregated from the Bestiaries, yet as this resource hasn’t been updated since mid-2015, I can’t completely guarantee that my opinions are without bias. The best I can do is disclose that!

More than a simple review of Spheres of Might content, however, this guide is meant to teach you how to build and play a Spheres practitioner. Unlike many of my other guides, in which I create perhaps 5-10 builds, I have fully 35 builds planned for this guide, many of which are already completed! Each of these builds will walk you through what the build’s strengths are, how to deal with common situations you may encounter while adventuring, and how a basic combat will unfold. Average DPR values (that’s “damage per round,” kids) will give you some idea of whether the build is meant to fill a support, debuffing, damage, or hybrid role. The guide does not currently review or use any material from Champions of the Spheres, which overlaps Spheres of Power and Spheres of Might, but with enough patron support, I might eventually work on that. Other planned updates include:

  • Sample builds for the Spheres of Might archetypes for core Pathfinder classes, rather than just builds for the practitioner classes.

  • Tech sphere writeup. It’s just too long, and not every group will want to use it.

  • The creation of an “Action Tracker” for Spheres. This project is now finished! This resource will make it much easier for you to track move actions, standard actions, swift and immediate actions (including the immediate action rollover to the next turn!), and attacks of opportunity. Hopefully it’ll make your games, far, far less complicated.

  • The creation of a “Cheat Sheet” for Spheres. Much as I did with my guide to Pathfinder’s Wondrous Items, The Armamentarium, I’d like for this to be a stripped-down, mechanics-only shorthand guide to talents, featuring action input, triggering effect, outcome, action output, etc. That will be…a lengthy undertaking, I suspect.

Alright, so that’s our scope! Let’s get to the breakdown of how we’re going to be rating things.

The Rating Rubric

Treantmonk started the rating system, and I’m simply capitalizing on it. Long-time readers of my guides will recognize a newcomer to our color system, though, so here’s the skinny:

Red: Red options are the traps. Either they’re so bad that you should on no account waste resources on them, or else they’re outmoded by other talents, feats, or class features.

Yellow: Yellow options are mediocre. In some cases, this means mediocre no matter who takes them, but in other cases, yellow options indicate feats, talents, or class features that are excellent for one particular playstyle or build, yet worthless for others.

Green: Green options are our middle-of-the-road B average. They might not be priorities, but they definitely contribute a solid foundation to any build.

Blue: Blue options are the best of the best. Just about any build can benefit from these talents or feats.

Purple: Ah, our newcomer. Purple talents, like the Roman royalty of antiquity, are the emperors and empresses of Spheres of Might. They’re so good that you’re kind of incredulous that they would be offered to you in the first place. Just so that this rating doesn’t lose its savor, I’ve striven to award it to only one talent per sphere. Some spheres, like Warleader, feature no purple options at all; some, like Trap, feature multiple purple options. Whatever the case, these options are capable of singlehandedly defining the way you play.

With that out of the way, I’d like to explain a bit more about the rules of Spheres of Might. You can find most of these rules on either the “Using Spheres of Might Wiki page or the “How to Build a Practitioner” Wiki page, but there are a lot of intricacies to the rules that you might miss if you glossed through those pages. Given how imporant small rules minutiae like “anyone can recover martial focus by taking the total defense action” can be, they bear mentioning here.

The System at a Glance

The Talents

At the heart of Spheres of Might are abilities called talents. Talents are most equivalent to feats in core Pathfinder: they are the specific actions that your character can take, or improvements on previously acquired actions, and are housed under thematic umbrellas called Spheres. Unlike core Pathfinder, there are never prerequisites for acquiring talents. Once you spend a talent to gain access to a sphere, you can purchase any talent you’d like from within that sphere without monkeying around with prerequisites. The new classes introduced in SoM gain either 10, 15, or 20 of these talents over the course of their careers, and core Pathfinder classes have the option of taking archetypes that replace class features or spellcasting with talents. Additionally, PCs can sacrifice their normal feat progression in exchange for talents.

The Spheres

Talents are grouped thematically into spheres, and before you can get to the meat of the talents, you’ll have to pony up to access the sphere itself. Don’t worry, though! Base spheres often have powerful, unique effects. The Sniper sphere, for example, gives you Precise Shot as a bonus feat and the ability to add some hefty bonus damage onto a single shot. The Gladiator sphere gives you Dazzling Display as a bonus feat. Many other spheres give you free skill ranks for your investment. At any rate, the ability to flexibly mix and match spheres is what gives the system its versatility. Want to be a Ranger-Monk who stepping-stones across the backs of his eagle companions before diving 100 ft. onto an enemy with a crushing unarmed blow? Well, you’ve got Athletics (Jump), Beastmastery, and Open Hand to make that concept a reality. How about a Rogue-Alchemist who roots enemies in place with traps, lights them up with alchemical fire, then steals everything that isn’t nailed down? The Alchemy, Scoundrel, and Trap spheres will get that done. A vicious, drunken warlord who knows how to stage an ambush? Scout, Warleader, Berserker, Barroom. Realistically, just about any character concept can be created using three or four spheres, but whether you want to dabble in many or specialize in one, you’re free to do it.

The Practitioner Classes

Although archetypes for core Pathfinder classes are available, you’ll probably want to investigate the eight—yes, eight—new classes designed specifically for Spheres of Might. A (very) brief summary of each is included below.

  • Armigers focus on rapid cycling between weapon and talent sets, enabling impossibly versatile approaches to different enemies. Switch-hitters par excellence, they’ll never be caught with the wrong tool at hand.

    • Most Similar To? Brawler, Master of Many Styles Monk.

  • Blacksmiths provide powerful whole-team buffing, lots of free crafting potential, and the ability to sunder enemies’ weapons, natural armor, and natural weapons. (Unlike most sunder users, Blacksmiths can actually put broken or even destroyed items back together, so the maneuver is actually good in their hands!)

    • Most Similar To? Paladin, Fighter.

  • Commanders buff their allies with inspiring words, and can often use special tactical powers to allow allies to act out of turn, moving around the battlefield or attacking enemies.

    • Most Similar To? Cavalier, Bard.

  • Conscripts are the true blank slates of the Spheres classes, capable of either taking a stunning number of talents or else exchanging talents for special abilities like Fast Movement, Sneak Attack, etc. Whatever your vision, Conscripts can realize it.

    • Most Similar To? Anything, really. If you can dream it, the Conscript can do it.

  • Scholars have incredible non-magical healing abilities at their fingertips, and specialize in various other alchemical decoctions. Thanks to a huge number of skill points and an Intelligence focus, they can frequently serve as party faces or skill monkeys.

    • Most Similar To? Investigator, Wizard, Alchemist.

  • Sentinels are, simply put, unbreakable. Issuing challenges to foes and refusing to budge from their iron stances, they focus on absorbing obscene amounts of damage while grinding enemies steadily into dust.

    • Most Similar To? Barbarian, Cavalier, Paladin.

  • Strikers are unarmed specialists who wind up for enormous, explosive blows. Because the class requires active and considered management of a resource called tension, I would recommend it for more advanced players only.

    • Most Similar To? Slayer, Monk, Brawler.

  • Technicians are tinkerers and inventors, constantly tweaking existing pieces of equipment to be more protective, more deadly, or more refined. From mechs to nightvision goggles to railguns, the Technician can supply.

    • Most Similar To? Kineticist, Alchemist, Investigator.

Martial Traditions

As you page through some of the newly introduced classes, you might notice something odd: none of them are proficient in anything more than light armor and simple weapons. So, what gives? Spheres of Might introduces a system called Martial Traditions that replaces more conventional class-based weapon proficiencies with proficiencies based on the life background of the character. Grew up on the deck of a ship? Doesn’t matter whether you’re a Paladin or a Druid, you’ll probably have proficiency with the cutlass. Grew up with a dad in the local Assassin’s Guild? Doesn’t matter whether you’re a Fighter or a Rogue, you’ll probably know how to pop poison onto your weapon in a pinch. All practitioner classes and Spheres of Might archetypes for core Pathfinder classes grant you four talents for free at 1st level, grouped into these thematic packages. One will define your weapon proficiencies, and the other three will start to paint a picture of the fighting skills your character acquired prior to adventuring.

Practitioner Modifiers

Save DCs can be…challenging in core Pathfinder. Classes have class ability DCs, spells have spell save DCs, and feats can sometimes grant new abilities that have their own save DCs that must be tracked separately! It’s all a bit much. In Spheres, you only have to worry about one thing: your practitioner modifier. The practitioner modifier is your modifier to one attribute, chosen by your class. Scholars and Technicians use Intelligence, Strikers and Blacksmiths use Constitution, Sentinels use Wisdom, Commanders use either Charisma or Intelligence, and Armigers and Conscripts can use any mental attribute, chosen at 1st level. Once you’ve chosen your practitioner modifier attribute, the DC of any sphere ability is 10 + ? BAB (or Skill Ranks, in some cases) + practitioner modifier. Simple.

The Battered Condition

One new condition, battered, is introduced in Spheres of Might. It’s a flat -2 to CMD, and denies enemies the attacks of opportunity that they usually get to make against player characters who use combat maneuvers without the associated Improved [Maneuver] feat. As a system, Spheres of Might is very combat maneuver-focused, so the debuff alone is worthwhile. Critically, however, sphere talents often do not grant you the ability to avoid AoOs for using combat maneuvers. If you want to do it safely, you’ll need to dole out this condition!

Legendary Talents

Despite the relative “believability” of most talents, Drop Dead also recognizes that some players and GMs enjoy access to more supernatural or wuxia abilities, like running 800 ft. in a round or literally turning your blood into alcohol. Legendary talents are available only at later levels, typically have prerequisites, and confer more supernatural powers on their users. You can look at the Sniper sphere to see what I mean: firing arrows at range increments of 1 mile, through solid objects? Yes, that does indeed qualify as legendary. Note that these talents are included in the game only at GM discretion, however, so check with them about which talents—if any—they will allow you to bring to the table.

Martial Focus

Martial focus (that’s martial, not marital, a typo that I guarantee I will make at least once in this document) is a new expendable resource introduced in Spheres. This resource is the beating heart of many of your more powerful sphere abilities, much like Spell Points from Spheres of Power, so take it seriously! Martial focus can be regained only once per round, either through class abilities, sphere talents, the total defense action, or a one-minute rest. Even if you have nothing to spend it on right away, a talent that improves your ability to regain martial focus should be one of your very first investments! Martial focus can always be expended to treat a Fortitude or Reflex save as though you had rolled a Natural 13, and that alone can save your bacon in the early levels.

Stance Talents

Introduced in the Youxia Handbook, talents with the (stance) tag radically redefine what practitioner PCs are capable of. I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of them! In brief, maintaining a stance is much like maintaining a Style feat in core Pathfinder, except the swift action cost applies every round. In Spheres of Might, where swift actions are in much higher demand than in core games, this could be a significant price to pay. Fortunately, you can always burn your martial focus in order to get the effects of your (stance) talent for a number of rounds equal to your practitioner modifier. 

Associated Feats

One of my favorite systems in Spheres of Might is the Associated Feats system. Throughout the sphere talents, you’ll occasionally see the phrase, “Associated Feat: [Core Pathfinder Feat].” Once you select the talent or sphere that has an associated feat, you are treated as though you had that feat—and any other feats it lists as prerequisites—for the purposes of satisfying other feat prerequisites. Let’s take as an example the Berserker sphere talent Advancing Carnage. This talent says that its associated feats are Cleave and Great Cleave, plus Cleave Through if we take it a second time. Cleave and Great Cleave are immediately satisfied as prerequisites, as is Power Attack. If we take the talent a second time, we add Cleave Through and Strength 13 to our list of satisfied feat prerequisites. Just taking these two talents will open our feat selection up to a variety of other Cleave feats, and we can focus our feat usage on other priorities.


Back Matter

So concludes our whirlwind tour of the Spheres of Might gaming system—and by “whirlwind,” I mean “250+ pages.” Adieu, adieu! Parting is such sweet sorrow that we must say good night till it be morrow. If you’ve enjoyed what you read here and are already reaching for your wallet to throw money at the screen to support this starving PhD student, don’t worry! You needn’t force that crisp $20 bill into your outdated floppy drive—we’ve got Patreon for that now! You can find me at the headquarters of All Souls Gaming, and anyone who contributes not only supports me in my future guide writing efforts, but also helps me to create the clear, fair, and balanced third-party content I’ll be devoting some time to in the coming years. As my mission statement, company name, and internet handle imply, my goal is to rope as many people into this crazy, wonderful, breathtaking community of ours, so any content I create will always be free of charge to you. Call it a mitzvah, or call it an informed hunch that your conscience might just prompt you to donate at some point. 😉

If 3PP material isn’t really your jam, well, you can always find me on Reddit, where my handle is /u/Allerseelen. I like to think I’m quick to respond to private messages and mentions on the /r/Pathfinder_RPG subreddit. And I’m now entering the 21st century and setting myself up with a Twitter account! Come chat with me @AllSoulsGaming1.

As far as what the future holds for this restless guide writer, well, there are still plenty of resources that I’d love to be able to put out for Spheres of Might. While I’m toiling away on those, however, might as well get started on a Deific Obedience guide, right? And at some point, there’ll be enough content out for 2e that it merits looking at. No rest for the weary—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As always, my thanks go out to the incredible Pathfinder community, without whose guides and formatting tips I would have been hopelessly lost; to Paizo itself, which has created a truly wonderful game that makes for some truly wonderful times; and to Drop Dead Studios, which has outdone itself with their Spheres systems. Here’s to the monsters we’ve slaughtered, the stories we’ve told, and the GMs we’ve given nervous breakdowns!

See you on Golarion,

Chris

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