Some people know all of the rules to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, but many, many more do not. Here’s a list of the things we screwed up in our never-ending search for Pathfinder perfection…
“Sometimes you can just smell a horrendously shitty day on the way, can’t you?”
I’ve always loved that line from the 1994 movie The Paper (a great one if you’ve never happened to see it), and I’m going to steal some of it today. Sometimes you can just smell a We Are Stupid coming, can’t you? Combine a spell with multiple paragraphs of descriptive text, and our dear friend Matthew (who notoriously reads about 50% of any spell description before casting it), with a monumentally important narrative moment, and one can be just about certain I’ll be writing a We Are Stupid within 48 hours.
Well, we did not disappoint, or rather, by disappointing, we did what was expected of the GCP crew. We inexcusably misread the rules on the reincarnate spell and in so doing, ended up with a very different interpretation of the story. I’ve said before that when we were unsure of a rule, we generally went with what makes sense. In this case, I would argue that we still did exactly that. In fact, I’d like to make a case that our interpretation of the spell, though conflicting with the text, is actually a far cooler way to play it. But first, the stupid part.
The reincarnate spell states that the subject’s “Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores depend partly on the new body.” No mention is made of the mental scores of Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. In fact, included in the text of the spell is a chart that shows the adjustment you would make to your character’s physical ability scores based on each race. Again, no mention is made of making any changes to your mental scores. It makes sense that your mental state would remain fairly intact and equal with what your character had before the reincarnation since the spell’s text also states, “a reincarnated creature recalls the majority of its former life and form.” We spent the entire episode talking about the total change to all the statistics, including Lorc losing the mental benefits of his older age, all while this text was staring us right in the face. There’s no excuse for it. Frankly, I’m embarrassed…for Matthew and this enormous mistake for which he is solely to blame.
Now, for the cooler part.
Despite this clear and undisputed error, I think there’s an argument to be made for changing more than just a character’s physical attributes. I know what you’re thinking: “Don’t try to worm your way out of this one, O’Brien. You and your friends are stupid. Period. End of discush.” You’re not wrong, incredibly rude reader, but you are a little short-sighted. I can break this argument down into three parts: First, Lorc Irontusk, then a different angle on the text of the reincarnate spell, and finally the implications of reincarnation on min maxing and roleplay.
First, Lorc Irontusk was a man of great…well, nothing really. There’s nothing particularly “great” about Lorc. That’s sort of what makes him Lorc. He’s a half-orc, which is an enormous part of how his life began, where he ended up, and how he views the world. For Lorc, changing bodies isn’t exactly Freaky Friday, or any other of the dozens of body-swapping comedies we’ve seen over the years. This is a change that will have serious impact on the character. An impact that goes FAR beyond the physical attributes of him being a little less hearty and a little faster in the 40. I think it’s flawed thinking to assume that a character like Lorc could inhabit the body of an elf and not only have changes to his mental state, but mechanically to his Intelligence, Wisdom, and I think most obviously to his Charisma. I know the specific story of one character is not a good basis from which to argue that the spell isn’t as good as it could be. The spell needs to be crafted in such a way that it can apply across thousands and thousands of characters over years of game play. I don’t think there are major problems with the spell at all. I think there are hints of what I’m talking about right in the text itself!
So let’s look closer at the text of the spell. Reincarnate states that the subject’s “Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores depend partly on the new body.” Partly on the new body? Which part doesn’t depend on the new body? Does part of the scores depend on the old body? That doesn’t make a lot of sense. What else is contributing to those scores? Maybe they are talking about the ability points that you earn at 4th, 8th, 12th, etc. level. Those ability score points do transfer to the new body. So I guess that means that part of Dexterity is learned. Part of Strength is trained and can be present even in a new body, if not immediately, in a short while. Part of Constitution is how you eat, exercise, and sleep. So if the mental state of an individual can so impact the physical state of their body mechanically, why can’t the physical state of their body have some impact on the mental state of the individual? The hit points also remain unchanged as per the rules of the spell, implying that hit points are not simply the limits of one’s flesh, but to quote the core rulebook, how “robust and healthy” one is. Again, more evidence that mental is impacting the physical, but why is it only a one way street?
There are also other lines in text that imply mental changes after the reincarnation. “A reincarnated creature recalls the majority of its former life and form.” The majority of its life and form. This suggests to me that the creature is mentally changed to some degree. The process must be so jarring that inevitably, beyond the glaring physical changes, mental changes take place as well. How the spell impacts an individual mentally would vary wildly from subject to subject, so while I think it should be considered, I would understand your hesitance on accepting that one as a good argument for the spell’s intention in general.
But there’s a larger question looming here with the rules. What does a race’s ability bonus or penalty to a mental score represent? To me it represents instinct. An elf has a natural instinct to expand its Intelligence by questioning the deeper mysteries of the universe and the world of magic. A dwarf has a natural instinct to have a grounded, more realistic view of the actual world and thus gains a bonus in Wisdom, and a halfling is just plain likable, so we give them a bump in Charisma. Why would we assume these instincts are not at all tied to the physiology of the body? Especially considering that there are racial traits that clearly come from mental faculties. “The reincarnated creature gains all abilities associated with its new form, including extraordinary abilities, and the like, but it doesn’t automatically speak the language of the new form.” So while there are certainly limits (Lorc doesn’t automatically speak Elf), the text of the spell does assume that Lorc Irontusk inherits an elf’s “Elf Magic” trait and would now get a +2 bonus to spellcraft checks to identify an item. Doesn’t that seem like Lorc is getting smarter? Or what about Elven Immunities? Lorc now acquires a +2 bonus to saves against enchantment effects. Enchantment effects are spells that specifically affect the mind. They are avoided by being strong of Will, which is directly tied to a character’s Wisdom score. These instincts that came with the body that now change Lorc’s mental makeup in some small way. I would argue that the rules allow for and expect this, so why not acknowledge the other mental changes that would inevitably take place if you were thrust into a new body?
I’ll wrap this up now with a quick min-maxing question and then the implications for all of these thoughts on roleplay in general.
Am I crazy or would this spell as written imply that making a character with the old template (-2 to all physical abilities, and +2 to all mental abilities), with the intention of leveling them to level 7 and then immediately having a druid cast reincarnate into a younger body, would be the best way to min max your character just from an ability point perspective? What am I missing here? Comment below because unless I’m crazy, my Ruins of Azlant character is 100% going to have the old template.
I think it’s possible by the spell’s text as written that someone could be reincarnated and then not really change the roleplay of their character at all. With all of the mental foundations and quirks of the character’s personality transitioning over, there would be no major need to roleplay different, with the exception of reactionary roleplay when you’re a troglodyte walking into Prancing Pony. I wouldn’t want to play reincarnation that way. I think that some part of the new body must affect your mind and that those changes could be represented by the mental bonuses or penalties of the new race that you become. More importantly, I think it’s just more challenging and more fun to play it that way.
In closing, I don’t believe that the spell should change or that there is an inconsistency in the rules, or anything like that. I think the rules are actually flexible enough to allow for my interpretation, which is one of the things that makes the rule a good one. I just got carried away thinking about all the comments we got that reincarnation was only a physical change and I just wanted to put an argument out there that the rules could be interpreted in such a way to allow more mental change to the character than perhaps one would deduce after just one reading of the spell’s text. Of course, we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion if we had read the spell’s text. Just once.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Please comment here and let me know how you’ve addressed reincarnate in your games. Did the character’s personality remain the same? Has anyone ever changed mental stats based on a purely physical change?
Happy New Year, everybody!
Lorc the Elf