Before there were hybrid classes and countless archetypes for base classes, one of the more interesting customization options for a character was to use an archetype from the 4 part Genius Guide archetype series by Owen KC Stephens, a major & highly respected force in the d20 RPGs community, especially Pathfinder. Unfortunately, due in part to release in the very early days of Pathfinder, they were a bit wonky, often creating dead levels, and were a tad imbalanced in the “loss vs gain” department. Many archetypes leaned heavily towards being extremely conservative on power by the standards of the era, especially when comparing archetypes that filled a certain niche that a class already could do, such as archetype for doing witch hexes.
Nevertheless, many people, myself included, still found them to be interesting and some of the archetype packages to this day cover ideas that either have not been found or not been done as well in other classes or archetypes. As more classes & feats have come since then & the power scale of the game has changed drastically, the system hasn’t aged well. So, I figure why try my hand at overhauling the overall archetypes system & modify some of the archetypes? Other than the potential rage of a thousand angry gamer fanboys incinerating the earth, it can’t hurt to take a stab at it, right?
For this end, we first need to start with what’s lost in the classes and address balance it to where each class loses a comparable amount of ability when gaining an archetype. The easiest way to handle the class archetypes imbalance is to give each class 2 archetype packages it can trade & adjust or label the archetype packages acquired to match. A major and minor archetype system would make balance easier. If each class has a major & minor archetype, then you can put the universal archetype packages into the appropriate category. From there, a few tweaks to those universal archetype packages as needed and add a little something extra to hold it all together in order to produce something that’s in theory playable 1-20 without being too strong or weak.
Revised Class Packages
*Alchemist: nothing to change here. Grenadier is the minor & Mad Chymist is the major.
*Barbarian(core/unchained): originally, this lost the entirety of rage & rage powers, which accounts for roughly 3/5 to 2/3 of the class’s abilities. For the unchained barbarian, this is more like 7/10 to 3/4. It’s disproportionately the highest loss of any of the archetypes. As such this one really requires going into in a bit more depth than the others.
For the minor one, the amount of rage rounds per day should be reduced to Con Mod + 1 +1/lv and gain rage powers every 3 lvs(3, 6, 9, ect.). Barbarian would maintain it’s iconic ability & have no dead levels while taking away emphasis from the Rage ability. Furthermore, one could still use variant forms of rage & even some archetypes that trade away 1 more rage powers.
The major archetype package trades fast movement, uncanny dodge, improved uncanny dodge, trapsense(danger sense for unchained barbarian), and damage reduction.
Special: If you choose an archetype package that grants spellcasting, you may opt to halve your base rage bonuses(but not penalties) in order to be able to cast spells while in rage. Increases to rage, such from the greater rage class feature, improve rage by value of the increase from the normal base rather than increasing rage to the listed value. For example, greater rage increases rage to +6 str & con and +3 will saves. Since the base for normal rage is +4 str & con and +2 will saves, the increase for greater rage would be +2 str & con and +1 will saves.
*Bard: Major is Spellsinger. Minor is Performer
*Cavalier: Knight is minor and Horseman is major
*Cleric: This one is tricky to come up with a second archetype for. Spellcasting is such a major part of this class & channel energy is not good enough to be its own archetype by itself. However, since spellcasting is a major part of the class, diminishing that has a major impact.
Major: reduce spellcasting progression to match the spells per day & maximum spell level for the magus class.
Minor: lose domains including bonus domain spell slot
*Druid: Major is clearly the original Beastlord package. For a minor package, nature bond, nature sense, & resist nature’s lure
*Fighter(core/unchained): Since the class only gets 1 feature at lv 1(or 2 with Pathfinder Unchained’s additional of Combat Stamina as an automatic addition to the fighter), this was somewhat difficult to work with at a glance, but with some thought it really wasn’t that back.
Major: Battle Master with the added loss of Weapon Mastery at lv 20.
Minor: lose medium & heavy armor proficiency, tower proficiency, armor training, and armor mastery
*Gunslinger: This one is quite difficult to break down into a major & minor package because of how little the class gets due to being balanced in respect to fighter. Of course, as with fighter, difficult isn’t going to stop us from devising something that’ll work.
Major: only gain 1 deed of your choice at lvs 1, 3, 7, 11, 15, & 19
Minor: reduce fort save to low & do not gain the nimble class feature
*Inquisitor: Major is Magister. Minor is Executioner
*Magus: This is also a difficult one to break down into a major & minor package because of how much is tied into arcana and spellcasting. The spellcasting addons push the casting beyond a major archetype and the arcane pool abilities account for a significant portion of the class’s power as well.
However, a solution isn’t completely impossible. As with gunslinger, we will water down the abilities enough to make the exchange balanced enough.
Major reduces the spellcasting ability of the magus to only gaining cantrips at lv 1, being able to prepare a lv 0 spell at lv 1 & an additional lv 0 spell at lvs 2 & 3. At lv 4, the magus gains spells per day & max spell level equal to a ranger & int mod + 1 spells known. At lv 5 and every level after, the magus gains an additional spell known. The magus still selects spells from the magus spell list and key stat as normal.
Minor reduces arcane pool to 1/3 level(round down, minimum 0) + int mod and remove the magus arcana talents at lvs 3, 9, & 15.
*Monk(core/unchained): The original one needs some serious revision to make 2 decent archetypes. Major package includes Stunning fist, Ki Pool, and all ki abilities. Minor includes all of the monk bonus feats.
*NPC Classes: Because they generally lack class features, NPC classes have up to 1 major or 2 minor archetype packages. The exception to this is the commoner, which can’t have nice things otherwise it’s just not a commoner 😉
This is more of a way to just quickly moderately strong NPC. If you want to make a full class out of an NPC class, you can instead add 2 major sets or 1 major & 2 minor sets to the NPC class and typically make something reasonably balanced for the game.
EDIT: If using 2 minor archetypes & 1 major, offset the level of the 2nd minor archetype by 2 levels to even out progression rates & improve balance. If using 2 major archetypes, adjust the progression of the second archetype by 1 level. Such builds will have many perks and not be quite as strong as a normal class but should make for interesting NPCs.
*Oracle: Major is Mystic package. Minor gains 1 less spell per day & spell known per spell level.
*Paladin: Major archetype is Avenger. Minor package is Divine Guardian
*Ranger: The Scout package is the major archetype. Modify it to also drop the abilities that revolve around favored terrain & favored enemy abilities, such as camouflage & quarry. Also, it does not lose Hunter’s bond, which is limited to animal companion & may be traded out for another ability as normal for applying multiple archetypes to a class.
The minor package is Woodland Spellcaster except that it gets to keep wild empathy as the skill points make up for most low level minor archetype abilities.
*Rogue(core/unchained): Major package is Trapfinding, 2 skill points a level, as well as altering the rogue talent progression to a talent at lvs 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, & 18. At lv 12 gain access to advanced talents.
Minor is the sneak package as written.
*Sorcerer: Major is bloodline. Minor is 1 less spell per day & spell known per spell level.
The reason for diminishing overall spells per day instead of going the full drop in max spell level like cleric is a lack of base attack to back it up & the bloodline ability is overall more powerful/important than cleric’s domains.
*Summoner: Major is the Augmenter package which now includes cantrips for consistency. Minor is the Eidolon
*Swashbuckler: One would think that like gunslinger this would be hard to work with but it’s actually got a lot better material to work with overall, so it’s a bit easier. It’s also so different from gunslinger that it’s the only hybrid class I can justify doing archetype stuff for.
Major: only gain 1 deed of your choice at lvs 1, 3, 7, 11, 15, & 19
Minor: Do not gain nimble & swashbuckler’s finesse class features. Reduce skill points by 2/lv
*Witch: Major is hexen. Minor is reducing spells per day by 1 per spell level and spells known by 1 per class level
*Wizard: Major is Arcane Master package. Minor is reducing spells per day by 1 per spell level and spells known by 1 per class level
Sidenote: One can swap a major class package for a minor archetype package but not a minor archetype for a major class package.
One may not swap minor class packages for the minor class package of another class. The same applies to major packages. However, one can swap a major class package for a minor class package as a lower powered alternative to using hybrid classes in games. This is to help maintain a bit of fairness of the overall system while still allowing for a diverse range of class builds.
Revised Archetype Packages
*Acolyte(minor): no changes
*Hedge Wizard(minor): Increase bonus spells known to 1 at lv 5 and every level after. Change Bypass Gestures to be armored mage light at lv 1, which increases to medium at lv 8 and to heavy at lv 16. Increase Power Boost’s caster level increase to +2 at lv 8 and +3 at lv 16.
*Initiate(minor): no changes.
*Minstrel(minor): no changes
*Pact Scion(major): At level 1, choose between the additional GP cost and the nonlethal damage drawback to be your drawback rather than having both. Remove the non-caster restriction
While conjuration is extremely useful having both drawbacks was a bit too much of a hindrance, one that the warder & wise didn’t have to contend with despite those being almost as powerful.
*Shadow Master(major): no changes
*Sigil Mage(minor): no changes
*Spellblaze(minor): From lv 4 on, make spellblaze usable at will instead of per day so it will be competitive to more utilitarian options, such as spellcasting, one could be taking instead
*Warder(marjor): Remove class list limit since abjuration is a big enough & more important limit. Since there aren’t many abjuration lv 0 spells, add universal spells to the list of 0 level spells the warder may choose from. Remove the non-caster restriction
*Archer Alchemist(minor):. no changes
EDIT: looking it over more, move the alchemical shot ability to lv 3 & bag of tricks to lv 7 in order to even out the progression rate of abilities & improve archetype balance.
*Sharpshooter(minor): no changes
*Spellbow(minor): Remove spellcasting requirement & possibly rename it to kinetic bow. The reason is that there really just isn’t enough to it that justifies any actual spellcasting ability. Adjust the bonus enchantments to be gained lvs 3, 7, 11, 15, & 19 instead of the original progression. This helps fix dead level issues & boosts the usability just a sliver
*Tempest(major): no changes
*Zen Archer(major): no change
*Chantry(minor): no changes
*Exorcist(major): add in being able to purge pact magic spirits(Pact Magic Unbound) & similar bonds as well as driving out possessing entities upon a failed save.
This helps make the exorcism more fitting of the name & updates it to add in some new options to combat things that either didn’t exist or were kinda rare.
*Heretic(minor): no changes
*Gnostic(varies): major for classes that get 9th level spells. minor for other casters.
*Martyr(minor): no changes
*Wise(major): Remove the non-caster restriction
*Witness(minor): no changes
*Blacksnake/Cloakfighter(major): no changes
*Harrier(minor): no changes
*Physical Exemplar(minor): no changes
*Spellhammer(minor): no changes
*Weapon Champion(major): no changes
*Youxia: major. This is one of the most wonky of the archetypes since it has many talent slots but only slightly more talents than that to pick from. By the mid teens, all youxia end up looking kinda samey.
As such, add ki feats & the qinggong monk ki powers to the list of feats talents available to the youxia. A youxia treats its class levels as monk levels for selecting qinggong powers. Arcane arts & meta-ki may be used with quiggong spell-like abilities as if they were spells, however, a youxia may not spend more ki points total on a spell-like ability than half its class level(round down, minimum 1).
Additionally, the youxia may utilize effects with a range of touch or that require an unarmed strike attack through a wushu weapon.
Finally, to help balance things a bit, reduce ki talents to 1 at lvs 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, & 20.
Empty Level Filler: Perks
While overall mechanically sound enough in theory, one will still end up with dead levels when what’s gained doesn’t give things at all of the same levels as what’s been lost. Whenever that occurs in the final class build, after all archetypes & variants have been applied, you may fill these empty levels in with one of the following minor abilities, referred to as perks, per empty level. Since perks are fairly niche in their applications & one likely won’t end up with a lot of them, they shouldn’t have any significant detriment to build balance.
*+2 bonus to a class skill of your choice
*gain lv squared x 10 GP in mundane items, including alchemical items and costly spell components. If you can produce equipment, this may instead be used to acquire magical gear
*+3 bonus to a specific subcategory of a skill, such as acrobatics to balance or bluff to pass a secret message. Some skills do not have subcategories of abilities. If the skill is a class skill, increase the bonus to +4
*Add 1 skill to your list of class skills
*+1 to ability checks with a single ability score
*+1 bonus to a single saving throw(fort, ref, will). The saving throw must be a low save for the class
*+2 bonus to saves vs a specific category of effect such as fear or poison
*+5ft speed when running, charging, or using the withdrawal action
*+1 bonus to damage rolls with a single weapon you are proficient with
*Reduce armor check penalty by 1
*Reduce non-proficiency penalties for 1 fighter weapon group by 1. If a weapon group’s non-proficiency penalty is reduced to 0, the character gains proficiency with entire weapon group.
*+1 spell known of up to the second highest level you can cast(minimum lv 0 spells)
*+1 caster level for 1 sub-school of spells, such as conjuration(healing) or evocation(fire)
*+1 to caster level to overcome spell resistance
For purposes of determining a empty level, do not count base attack, skill points, saves, spells known, spells per day increase for any level other than highest spell lv, or any ability that is worth less than a single perk at that level. Due to usefulness, levels with a spells per day increase of the highest available spell do not count as an empty level.
These perks may be taken multiple times & stack. You also may select different things to apply a perk category to, such as different weapons for the bonus damage option or different skills for the skill bonus.
Ideally, a final class build should not have more than 5 perks but that may possible depending on the combination.
BONUS: Additional Archetype Options
Now that the genius guide archetypes have been addressed, we can add in a few more packages to increase the variety and cover options that didn’t exist or weren’t well known at the time. Also will cover some 3rd party options. Options that will be addressed are pact magic from Pact Magic Unbound, psionics from Ultimate Psionics, martial maneuvers from Path of War, psychic magic from Occult Adventures, spherecasting from Spheres of Power, and martial flexibility from the brawler hybrid class. When possible, there will be major and minor options for each archetype category.
Major: Gain the ability of the pact magic occultist class to bind spirits and knows 1 spirit per class level but does not gain the ability to bind additional spirits or any other feature of the pact magic occultist. At lvs 8 & 16, gain a binder secret you meet the requirements for. Treat your class level as your occultist level.
Minor: As the warshade’s pact magic ability and knows of 1 spirit per spirit level. Does not gain any other class feature of the warshade. At lvs 8 & 16, gain a bonus pact magic feat you meet the requirements for.
Class counts as a psionic class for purposes of using racial favored class options for psionic classes.
Major: Choose a power list that goes up to 6th lv powers. Gain power points as a psychic warrior and a 1rst lv power known & 1 psionic talent at lv 1. At lv 4 every 4 levels, gain access to power level and an additional power known up to the highest power level you can access(up to 6 powers known & lv 6 powers at lv 20). Intelligence is the key modifier for these powers.
Minor: Choose a power list. Gain a single power point and 2 psionic talents(equivalent to 0 lv spells). At lv 3, gain psionics as a Gifted Blade with the addition of the single power point gained at lv 1 to the total power points the class gains. Charisma is the key modifier for these powers.
Your chosen list determines your key modifier. Use the modifier of the class whose list you’ve select as your key modifier.
Major: Choose a psychic class spell list that goes up to at least 6th lv spells. Gain spells per day as an adept. For levels that would have 0 spells per day, you may only cast spells of that level if you possess a high enough ability score to gain bonus spells per day for that spell level. Your 0 lv spells known equals your spells 0 lv spells per day. Your first lv & second lv spells known equal a bard’s. For spell lvs 3-5, use the bard’s spells known adjusted for when the spell level is actually gained. For example, at lv 8, you would gain access to 3rd level spells, so start with the spells known of when the bard first knows 3rd lv spells and advance your spells known from there for that spell level. So, at lv 8, you would have the 3rd lv spells known as a 7th lv bard & at lv 20, the 3rd lv spells known of a 19th lv bard.
Minor: Choose a psychic class spell list that gets lv 0 spells and goes up to at least lv 4 spells. At lv 1, you know a single lv 0 spell of that list & may use it at will. At lvs 2 & 3, you gain another 0 lv spell. From lv 4 onward, you gain the spells known & spells per day of a bloodrager equal to your level but using spells from your chosen list.
Choose a spellcasting ability score from intelligent, wisdom, or charisma. You gain a spellpool equal to your casting modifier plus class level.
Major: Your caster level equals 3/4 your class level(minimum 1). You gain 1 + 1 per 2 class levels(round down, minimum 0). If this is your first level in a spherecasting class, you gain an additional 2 talents.
Minor: You gain 1 sphere or talent per 2 class levels(round down, minimum 0). Your caster level equals 1/2 your class level. If this is your first level in a spherecasting class, you gain an additional talent.
Special: Gaining a sphere talent does count as gaining an ability for determining if a level is empty or not.
Gain martial lore as a class skill
Major: Choose 3 styles to pick from & the style skills as class skills.Gain maneuvers known & readied as well as stances known chosen from those styles using the general archetype progression listed in the Path of War expansion book. Your initiator level equals your class lv.
Minor: Gain the combat training trait with an initiator level of 3/4 lv(minimum 1). This bonus trait does not count against your total number of traits or limits for how many times you can select traits from a particular category At lv 3, gain the benefits of the martial training I feat, except that your initiator level equals 3/4 your class lv, your maneuver gained from the combat training trait is added to your total maneuvers known, recover 1 maneuver as a standard action & 2 maneuvers as a full-round action, and you may ready an additional maneuver(so, three 1rst lv maneuvers known & 2 readied through the trait & feat). The style from combat training & martial training must be the same.
At lvs 7, 11, & 15, gain the benefits of the martial training II, martial training III, martial training IV feats in that order. You do not need to meet the requirements for the martial training feats gained through this archetype. If you select a martial training feat you meet the requirements for before you would gain it in the class progression, you gain the next feat in the tree when you would’ve originally gained the feat.
Note: Originally, I had planned to make the minor archetype just the martial training I through VI feats at appropriate(early & delayed) levels, but that ended up being far frp, near enough of a power gap from the major option for my tastes & typically way too powerful for what you gave up. So, I reduced it to the trait & 4 of the 6 feats to improve power balance. It holds an interesting distinction for being an archetype that can be greatly enhanced by selecting the additional feats in the tree. This is a bit of a compromise on what I originally wanted and what should be gained, while still maintaining reasonable levels of system balance.
At first glance this ability seemed like a major ability with all the feat combos & options, but in practice it’s really no better than low-grade casting due to its usage limit & restrictions of combat feats. As such, it is classified as a minor package. The fact that one could have a variation of it through a fighter archetype that only trades part of the fighter’s major archetype package helped with this decision a bit, too.
Minor: Gain martial training as a brawler, except that the lv 6 improvement is gained at lv 5 & the lv 12 improvement is gained at lv 15.
Many people want a little bit of monk in their build but not the full-blown monk, such as a rogue assassin type who can go into a place where weapons & armor aren’t allowed and kill a target without having to be a full blown monk or brawler type. Another example is someone one might want to make a gentlemen boxer type, which really doesn’t suit the feel of monk or brawler, so they would take this and apply it to fighter instead.
Minor: Gain wisdom modifier as a dodge bonus to AC while wearing no armor & carrying no more than a light load. At lv 4 & every 4 lvs after, increase dodge bonus by +1. Additionally, gain unarmed strike of a monk equal to half your level(1d4 at lv 1, 1d6 at lv 2, 1d8 at lv 8, 1d10 at lv 16). This does not include the monk’s ki strike class feature.
After running tests, this ended up surprisingly appropriate for a minor package. If one wanted a major version, I guess they could have the AC bonus & unarmed strike be identical to monk & give it the ki strike abilities including a ki pool with the AC boost & extra attack options from monk. It’s not really a niche I’d go that far for honestly.
EDIT: Thinking about it, a more practical major archetype would be unarmed strike of a monk at lv 1 and increasing it at lvs 6, 12, & 18(but a d12 instead of 2d6 cause no one uses a d12) and add in style monk’s style strikes at lvs 5, 9, 13, & 17, spending a ki point to do the attack instead of making it part of a flurry. This would let someone do the attack as a standard action but would also limit the usability of such attacks in general so they won’t get spammed all the time either.