Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Quadratic wizards

I'm still playing Pathfinder: Kingmaker, with my second crew. Apart from the companions that the game offers you, my group has a wizard as a main character, and a sorcerer as a mercenary. Both of them are specialized in damage spells, like fireballs. And because Pathfinder is an old school RPG system, this is very unbalanced in my favor. Only at low levels are these characters weak, because they don't have many spells to cast every day, and the spells are not very powerful. But by mid-game these characters are extremely overpowered, because now they have lots of spells, and the spells are extremely powerful. This is what is known in RPG design as the "quadratic wizard" problem, that the power of these spellcasters doesn't go up in a linear fashion with level, but in a quadratic one.

Now I've battled my way through several scripted events in the game that involve a large number of enemies. I got assaulted by a large zombie horde, and a complete barbarian tribe. In a situation like this, a fighter would take forever to take out the enemies, as he can only ever hit one at a time. But with area effect damage spells from fireballs to chain lightning, I can take out large numbers of enemies much quicker. Spells like ice storm can also slow down the enemies and prevent them from reaching me before they have been grilled to a crisp. So this second playthrough is going a lot smoother than the first one.

The designers of Pathfinder: Kingmaker obviously were aware of that imbalance. None of the companions in the game is designed around using lots of fireballs. There are no wizard companions, except for a wizard / rogue / arcane trickster, which works more with spell sneak attacks than area effect damage. And there is absolutely no sorcerers available as companion. If you make a main character that isn't a wizard or sorcerer, and you don't use any mercenaries (NPCs where you can choose the class yourself), you can well end up without having much AoE firepower, which makes the game a lot harder.

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