The Bowman System – a quick explanation of our quick actions
C: So, pretty early on when we started playing Pathfinder, we discovered that there were a lot of rules—
A: A lot of rules.
C: —especially surrounding the specifics of spellcasting. And to keep things simple, we don’t really use all of them. Our games are a little different from each other but we have a lot of similar homebrew rules; for example, neither of them incorporate what in Pathfinder is called ‘arcane spell failure chance’.
A: Which is the possibility that, if you’re an arcane caster, your spellcasting could be interrupted by things like armour and stuff like that.
C: We’ve dealt with this in different ways. I’ve just got rid of it, and arcane spellcasters can take feats to train in armour proficiency. But in your game spellcasters aren’t armour-proficient in most situations.
A: Yeah, I’m very zealous about it.
C: So witches, wizards and sorcerers just can’t wear armour.
A: To be fair, it’s working really well to your advantage. Four-fifths of the party wears armour, and you’re all like, ‘Look at these flimsy witches; I cleave right through them.’
C: Even your multiclassed witches can’t wear armour. You have Barbarian-Witch or Fighter-Witch and they still can’t wear armour because it will fuck up their casting.
A: Yep. Bear that in mind if any of you want to multiclass with Witch.
C: True. But because I was more relaxed about this, I’ve tried to make up for it in various different ways; one mechanic introduced early on, which we both use—although we use it slightly differently—is what we initially called the ‘Bowman System’. A lot of Pathfinder spells—
A: We should quickly say, when you were first trying to teach Pathfinder to the rest of us, and we didn’t understand the rules at all, you were like ‘Okay, I need to simplify.’ So after a while we adapted to have just three actions in a turn: a Move, a Standard, and then a Quick.
A: We got rid of Swift and Free. They’re combined into our Quick.
C: It’s more 5th edition-y. If you are familiar with the Pathfinder rules, you might think ‘What? But then you can’t do all these different things.’ That’s partially correct. You generally do less on your turn, especially since casting usually takes more than just a Standard action.
A: Although, it’s worth noting that—because we’ve restricted some things—we’ve also made it so that you can use a ‘higher’ action to do some actions.
C: Like in Vanilla, where you can use your Standard to move, effectively doubling your movement.
A: Right. So in our games, a Standard action is number one, and then Move is number two and Quick is number three. And if you want to burn your Move to do a second Quick action, that’s okay, because a Quick is a lower action than a Move.
A: Which means that witches with familiars can use their Standard and Quick themselves, and then use their Move to let their familiars act, whereas normally the familiar would have to use a Quick.
C: This changes the game for a lot of classes. But probably the biggest change is the fact that spellcasting is more than just a Standard action, which is actually different from both Pathfinder 1e and 5th edition D&D—where casting is usually a Standard.
A: Yes—in our games it takes a Standard and a Quick action to cast a spell.
C: Obviously some spells take longer or shorter amounts of time to cast—like, Speak with Dead takes ten minutes to cast, and there are some spells that are an Immediate action, like Windy Escape, and there are some which take a full round to cast. Those all stay the same in our game. This ‘Bowman System’ rule specifically deals with things which are normally a Standard action in Vanilla.
A: Which is the majority of spells.
C: Right. And I feel somewhat vindicated by the fact that in Pathfinder 2’s playtest, most casting costs two different actions out of the three allotted to a character on their turn. So I want to stress, this isn’t us being totally bananas.
A: Calder went nuts when he saw Pathfinder 2. He was both so happy about their spellcasting rules and also so pissed off that someone else had his idea before he could tell the world about it. But mainly happy.
C: I felt very vindicated. I think Pathfinder 2 did a great job there. They’ve done it slightly differently to us because we don’t really go into the specifics much of vocal components or, um, semiotic—
C: Right, somatic components, or like, the literal components you need to do the spellcasting.
A: I think Pathfinder calls them material components.
C: Yes—those. We don’t really worry about them. But I do think it makes sense to be like, ‘Part of the spell is charging it—either by using those components, or saying an incantation, or by mentally flipping through your spell knowledge, as in our game—and part of it is releasing it.’
A: For us, the Quick action is the ‘charging’ of the spell, and the Standard is when you release it.
C: The reason we broke it up into two actions originally was to help balance the fact that we made spellcasting simpler and easier by not focusing on components and by not doing arcane spell failure. But it also simplified Pathfinder rules with things like touch spells, where it’s kind of ambiguous about what provokes—is it the casting the spell, is it the touching? Is it both? It’s especially not clear when the spell’s broken up with a Move.
A: Yeah, our first session was very…messy.
C: So in our game, we use what we call the Bowman System, where the idea is that you use your Quick Action to draw the bow and the Standard Action to fire it.
A: Shoot it. You shoot arrows unless they’re on fire.
C: You shoot it. You loose it. And that means that usually the Standard action doesn’t provoke, but the Quick action does.
A: Which is to say, charging the spell—which is equivalent to using components—is the part that provokes, and releasing the spell doesn’t.
C: The reason it’s called the Bowman System is from the idea that you have to load and fire a weapon, and it’s the loading which is the point of vulnerability. So it’s actually kind of a misnomer since firing a bow in Pathfinder also provokes.
A: But we’re stuck with it. Like so many of our misguided and hard-to-spell names, it’s canon now.
C: Maybe we could call it the Crossbowman System….well, anyhow, we should also mention: our homebrew rules allow you to break these actions up. Say you wanted to use Shocking Grasp without provoking, and you’re initially a distance away from the target, you can charge the spell with your Quick, move to them, and then touch them with your Standard, which prevents them getting an Attack of Opportunity on you.
A: By which you mean, make a touch attack, not just touch them.
C: Yes, do a touch attack. Extremely good point.
A: So this is the system we’ve been working with. It works pretty well, though I think it takes a little getting used to if you come to it knowing a different system. We have a player who has come from playing a little bit of D&D in another game and she sometimes is like, ‘Wait, what? I can only do these things?’
C: We also have a player who moves between these rules and Vanilla Pathfinder 1e rules, which is probably nightmarish to keep track of.
A: Although she did learn our rules first, so…I guess the other rules are the problem.
C: I’ll keep telling myself that. Also, as we explore these homebrewed mechanics, we’re uncovering different risks and potential flaws. Like, with getting to do less on your turn: I now have 8 people in my campaign, and just having a turn to move and cast does keep you pretty limited in terms of what you do, and if you only have one turn every twenty minutes, that can be kind of frustrating. I think that’s one of the reasons why Matt Mercer has given players in Critical Role the ability to cast two spells in a turn. In his game, most casting is a Standard, but you can also often cast a low-level spell as a Bonus. As you guys get to higher levels, I quite like that idea.
A: I’ve never felt like spellcasters are underpowered in either of our games, so I don’t know how I feel about giving them an extra spell per turn, but it’s certainly something to think about.
C: It’s something to play around with and explore as you guys continue to level. This is one of the cool things about having a homebrew—getting to develop it and finesse all these different rules and systems is such a fun feeling.
A: And since this system is all most of us have ever used, if you add in new things, we’ll be like, ‘Ah, another addendum, this makes total sense.’
C: Unlimited power!