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I like a bit of roleplay in my games and I'm quite supportive of any players that play in dumb but in-character ways. I often give some advantages here and there but I am a bit worried about balance. Here are some examples:

  • A gunslinger has a gimmick of using a shotgun to solve every problem, RPing in a way that blends comedy with not-being-a-murder-hobo. She once tried to cut up a dead fish with a shotgun for cooking while she only had one arm (the shotgun was a two-armed weapon and she gave away her left arm to some starving fish because she was a robot) and rolled a nat 20, after which I let her become trained in using the shotgun one-handed.

  • A Bard was playing his Bard like a disgraced politician, and one of his characteristics was using things that were expensive, fancy, and for which he did not know how to use, like a cane pistol that he went into debt to buy. He used it so much I eventually gave him "expert" in said cane pistol.

How would you personally balance situations like these, where you try to reward players for RP without doing something too crazy?

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2 Answers 2

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There are two questions I ask myself when approaching this kind of problem.

In what other ways can this advantage be emulated?

If there are any, then these other ways can be referenced to get a basic idea of what advantages you are really granting. If there are no other ways, then you are in unexplored territory and you have to be extra careful.

How well can this character leverage the advantage?

This relies more on your understanding of the character in question, and sometimes of the player as well.


These questions are open eneded because there is no "one size fits all" assessment to determine if something is balanced. Answering these questions meaningfully requires some degree of system mastery, and often involves scanning through the relevant material. Fortunately, 2e.aonprd.com's searchbar makes it relatively easy to find the relevant bits. Either way, assessing balance is difficult on the fly, so when you give out rewards you can say something like "I'll figure out the specifics later".

I can look at your two examples to show you how I would answer those questions.

Gunslinger

Emulation

Using a two-handed weapon with one hand cannot be achieved in other ways.
From here, I would start by comparing a two handed shotgun to a one handed shotgun. Moreover, both shotguns still require two hands to reload, though there are solutions for similar quandaries, such as the Capacity trait or the Dual-Weapon Reload feat.

Overall, the advantage you gave the gunslinger is equivalent to a one-handed shotgun with increased die size, firing range, and scatter range, while also granting her a Dual-Weapon Reload feat that only requires that shotgun. That is a lot to give out, not even a Inventor with Weapon Innovation would be able to improve a shotgun that much.

That said, let's consider emulation from a completely different direction. Both the Core Rulebook and Grand Bazaar have sections written with disabled characters in mind. The relevant bits are a bit scattered, but basically:

A character with a missing hand or arm might need to spend 2 actions to Interact with an item that requires two hands, or otherwise compensate. Using a two-handed weapon is not possible. A character can acquire a prosthetic hand or arm to compensate.

A prosthesis is an artificial device designed to replace a missing or damaged body part. Prostheses are made from a variety of materials, including wood or metal for common prostheses and clockwork devices or rare materials for more expensive ones. Advancements in the prosthetic field mean that even the most basic of prostheses can provide the full range of functionality for a missing body part.

A one-armed character can acquire a prosthetic that completely makes up for the missing arm. Only allowing a the Gunslinger to use a two-handed shotgun instead is less powerful than granting her said prosthetic, and therefore unbalanced.

Even so, ruling in the moment that the one-armed Gunslinger could use her weapon of choice to cut the dead fish was the right call, because:

By default, we recommend that, in an unexpected situation, you rule to allow the character with disabilities to participate fully in the story.

Leverage

The problems start if the Gunslinger gets a new arm or prosthetic while retaining her ability to use a two-handed shotgun one-handed, then she will be able to leverage this advantage: all the benefits of a two-handed weapon build (better damage, traits, etc.), while behaving like a different kind of build. She could keep her hand free to use other items and skill actions, wear a shield, even dualwield two two-handed shotguns...

This isn't something I would personally give out as a reward, at least not without some serious detriment. It's possible that when you say "trained in using the shotgun one-handed" you implied a detriment, because the gunslinger is otherwise expert or better with firearms. An effective -2 penalty might work as a detriment, if the player doesn't find a way to circumvent it.

Bard

Emulation

The Bard could gain the Martial Performance feat via the Multifarious Muse feat. That first level feat would grant him proficiency in all Martial Weapons (including a Cane Pistol), which in the Bard's case means trained from level 1 and expert from level 11. Finding a Cane Pistol in the first place is matter of setting and access, not balance.

However, giving the Bard expertise in a weapon before level 11 is a big no-no. The differing rates at which martials and casters acquire proficiencies is a cornerstone of the PF2e's balance. The only published exception is the Sixth Pillar archetype which has been flagged for errata for that very reason.

Leverage

There isn't much for the Bard to leverage given that the advantage in question is less broad than a level 1 class feat. While the Cane Pistol is interesting, it's balanced compared to other martial weapons, a handful of which every Bard is proficient in by default.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That is already an exceptionally well written answer, so it would enjoy a short addition about why it is a big no-no to grant expertise before level 11 (I think a mechanical explanation would help illustrate just how much leverage it is). \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    May 19 at 11:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ "a hand available to use items, spells, and skills" Spells should be removed from this list; you no longer need a free hand to perform Somatic components. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    May 19 at 13:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might also be worth noting that there is some balance if the Gunslinger can only ever be Trained compared to giving them their normal Proficiency with the weapon- that's a -2 to -6 penalty for keeping the hand free. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    May 19 at 13:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ My only issue is that the OP sounds like the character recently chose to sacrifice one of their arms as part of the story, and is a robot so could presumably get a new arm. Giving them the ability to function exactly as well as they did with the arm seems like it trivializes their sacrifice. That's an RP issue rather than a mechanical one though. \$\endgroup\$ May 19 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IllusiveBrian the question is specifically about the balance of the rewards so that's what I focused on. Paizo's approach is basically to use assistive items to handwave away as many detriments of disabilities as possible via assistive items and any meaningful analysis of this approach is well beyond the scope of this answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruse
    May 19 at 16:39
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Rewards as Options

Rewarding RP is great, but if you're concerned about balance it might be better to award access to options that grant these effects rather than just giving them outright.

So your bard might find someone willing to teach them how to use the cane pistol without shooting themselves, allowing them to take a gunslinger or other martial archetype using their class feats. Or even allowing for instant retraining if you want to grant them the benefit without requiring some downtime or leveling up.

Not all Rewards are Equal

Using a two-handed weapon with one arm is something that hasn't been made possible, and weapons are balanced around that fact. Comparing a flintlock pistol to a flintlock musket shows the cost of an extra hand required as giving:

  • Damage die increase
  • Nearly doubled range
  • Increased Fatal trait damage

Allowing a character to do this will make actual one-handed weapons pretty useless by comparison, but you could still balance this around some penalty like making the character clumsy while wielding the weapon in this way (akin to how the Giant Instinct barbarian uses enormous weapons) or by requiring the shotgun to be altered (reducing the damage/range to be comparable with one-handed weapons).

Lastly, you mentioned only granting this benefit after the character lost an arm, and there is explicitly mentioned GM discretion for allowing disabled characters to work around restrictions like these. The section on missing limbs says that such characters couldn't use two-handed items, but letting them get around even that limitation as a reward seems within the spirit of being inclusive.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A more powerful 2H shotgun will be designed to brace against the shoulder to absorb the recoil. Firing it with one hand means you're holding it in the air like a pistol, not braced against anything. Alongside clumsy, it could also make sense to reduce the firing rate (takes longer to steady and re-aim) or have a chance to either lose your grip and drop the weapon or knock yourself over. \$\endgroup\$
    – bta
    May 20 at 1:09

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