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My GM and I are having a bit of a debate about what those prestige classes that add "+1 level of existing class" actually do when in it comes to base class abilities that have a level scaling component.

The rule text of contention, taken from the Arcane Trickster in this case, reads as follows.

She does not, however, gain other benefits a character of that class would have gained, except for additional spells per day, spells known (if she is a spontaneous spellcaster), and an increased effective level of spellcasting.

(emphasis added)

This seems straightforward enough, but then I noticed that some abilities that one can acquire as an arcane class have level scaling components to them.

I shall provide two examples that I came across, though I am sure there are plenty more.

The first is the Arcanist exploit "Arcane Weapon.") It allows you to enchant a weapon to have a +1 bonus and higher as you gain levels, and you are allowed to add various effects that total up to your maximum allowed bonus based upon your level.

Another case is the Sorcerer's Arcane Bloodline and their third level Metamagic Adept power, which is supposed to increase in number of uses with increasing sorcerer caster level.

Off of common sense and the presumed spirit of the rules, I would think that something you knew how to do before you started going down the trickster's path, something that was presumably tied to your ability as a spellcaster in general (thus the level scaling) would continue to improve, even if you learned nothing new from your first paths beyond that point. A 13th level spell caster (assuming a 3rd level arcanist/10th level trickster) presumably could enhance their weapon better than they could when they started off earlier.

On the other, there is no explicit rule that I can find one way or the other on this aspect of the prestige class spellcasting abilities increase, and my GM is a bit a concerned about the possibility of balance issues.

In essence, does "an increased effective level of spellcasting" necessitate treating any level scaling ability from a base caster class as though you were an appropriate level caster for said ability? E.g., if you cast arcanist spells at 13th level, does your level-scaling exploit also cast at 13th?

Thanks for any and all edification on the topic.

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Your GM is correct. Such prestige classes benefit only your spells themselves, not other abilities you may have had, even if they are from a spellcasting class and/or magical themselves. So sorcerer bloodlines, magus arcana, and so on are left stunted if you abandon the base class for a prestige class. There are prestige classes that progress everything, like evangelist, but they don’t progress everything every level:

Aligned Class (Ex)

Evangelists come from many different backgrounds, and they show an unusual range of diversity. At 2nd level, the evangelist must choose a class she belonged to before adding the prestige class to be her aligned class. She gains all the class features for this class, essentially adding every evangelist level beyond 1st to her aligned class to determine what class features she gains. She still retains the Hit Dice, base attack bonus, saving throw bonuses, and skill ranks of the prestige class, but gains all other class features of her aligned class as well as those of the evangelist prestige class.

(emphasis mine)

Note the different wording here, and note that it starts at 2nd level—you get nothing at your 1st level of evangelist.

The wording on arcane trickster et al. comes from D&D 3.5e, which Pathfinder is a spin-off of. In 3.5e, many spellcasting classes did not have any non-spellcasting features after 1st-level: see the cleric or the sorcerer for examples. In these cases, prestige classes were often something-for-nothing, and almost all clerics and sorcerers would use prestige classes that advanced their spellcasting because they lost nothing of significance doing so. Paizo explicitly did not like this, and tried to change Pathfinder to make prestige classes less important overall.

Part of this was to add more class features to base classes that prestige classes would not progress. So the entire point of a sorcerer’s bloodline is so that if a sorcerer takes a prestige class, they are actually giving something up in exchange for the prestige class features.

As far as game-balance is concerned, Paizo (badly, IMO) missed the mark. While adding unique features to the sorcerer is a good idea, certainly seeing how empty that class table is, it has no become almost impossible to multiclass (including prestige classes) without badly nerfing yourself. You lose too much now when you do so. On top of that, prestige classes in general were badly nerfed, so few of them really offer anything exciting that might be worth considering losing your bloodline etc. features.

Ultimately, this is not an easy problem to fix: in D&D 3.5e, prestige classes were too good, to the point they became mandatory, but Pathfinder went too far, making them just traps for unwary players. The ideal is for both single-classed and multiclassed characters to be equally valid, but finding the balance is hard.

A better approach, but not one easily stapled to Pathfinder, is the approach used by D&D 4e: everyone gets a “prestige class” (that edition called them “paragon paths”) at 11th level, and it didn’t cost them any of their base class features. Since everyone got one at the same time, they didn’t “need” to cost anything like prestige classes do. If you and your GM are disappointed that prestige classes are almost-never worth using in Pathfinder, but want to avoid forcing people out of their base classes as in 3.5e, figuring out ways to move prestige class features onto some kind of uniform progression that everyone can get at, say, 6th, would be cool—but probably a lot of work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So, the effective caster level increase is explicitly not accounted for in level scaling abilities like the aforementioned arcanist exploit (Arcane Weapon)? This essentially translates into wizard or bust, then, barring perhaps a few highly creative builds. \$\endgroup\$ – Dazed and Confused Jul 21 '18 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DazedAndConfused Correct, those abilities scale on class level, not caster level. Not sure what you mean about wizard, though. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 21 '18 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well for me personally, at least. Depends on what other exploits I could take but wizards seem to lose less than a sorcerer, or other similar classes, for not having class levels. Judging by this discussion, at least. \$\endgroup\$ – Dazed and Confused Jul 21 '18 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ If there is a class feature that references CL instead of character level, that would also be increased. I'm not sure if that exists, off the top of my head \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Jul 22 '18 at 0:13

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