For over a year now, I’ve had a nagging thought: Vehicles in Pathfinder should have levels. I mean Pathfinder is a game where everything has a level to it (or some level-derived scaling to it): characters, NPCs, monsters, spells, encounters, mass combat units, magic items, gold, expected damage per round, hit points, saving throws, DCs. And vehicles have none of that?!? Not only that, they do not have an XP value. So according to the rules of the game, So according to the rules of the game, facing a bad guy is just as difficult as facing that same bad guy in a mech. Does that make sense to anyone?
Don’t get me wrong, I love vehicles. Adding a vehicle can really make an encounter epic and memorable. Take kobolds for example, what are you likely to remember more: fighting a half dozen kobold or fighting a only 3 kobolds, but they are each driving a giant stone-worked dragon-looking cart that breaths fire? I’d hazard a guess that the latter is far more memorable.
The rules as written now have no scaling to them at all, outside of cost. Unfortunately, cost is not a good means of scaling. Compare this for a moment: By the time you are level 5, a group of adventurers can cut their way through a small army of hobgoblins. When they are done, they have a small fortune in mundane arms and armor that they can take to the closest city and cash in. But this is balanced against the weight of the arms and armor. The slower traveling speed and the inability for certain characters such as monks and rogues to not use all their abilities when weighed down means it is much easier for most groups to just leave the weapons and armor on the battlefield and forget them. Now compare that to the vehicle that the hobgoblins came in on. If that small army attacked from several keelboats (using Ultimate Combat stats), not only can they take vehicle and pilot themselves (with potentially a penalty if they do not have the requisite 8 person crew) to a port, but they can also carry all those arms and armor they could not before, allowing them to get even richer. And if they decide to sell it, they have a whopping amount of money to buy other items that the level scaling system says they should not otherwise have. The other options is to take the vehicle’s cost into the expected treasure value of the encounter, meaning the bad guys have less equipment with which to attack the PCs, meaning they deal less damage to the adventurers. See the problem here. It is a catch-22.
Now if vehicles had levels to them, a GM would have a guideline as to what kind of vehicle to send the bad guys in with. A GM can decide see that a glider, being a level 1 vehicle should be used by the army of goblins instead of an alchemical dragon.
So far, I really have made nothing more than a few minor reasons why a level system is required for vehicles. That was all set up for this: the GP value does not really mesh well with a vehicle’s abilities and difficulty to handle. For example, a 13,000 gp keelboat has 600 hp and requires a crew of 8. Compare that to a 10,000 gp sailing ship (again, both of these use Ultimate Combat stats), which is 50% larger, requires a crew of 20 and has 900 hp. Higher hit points are associated with a higher level. So is larger size and a larger number of followers (if you have the Leadership feat). All of which indicate that the sailing ship is a higher level vehicle. So why does it cost less? Like equipment and magic items, gold piece value is the scaling factor here. Unfortunately, the base rules do not work the way it should.
Then case of wagons. There is never a reason for players to buy a light or medium wagon. The light wagon cost 50 gp, can carry up to 1,000 lbs, has 60 hp, and requires a horse to pull it. The heavy wagon, by contrast cost 100 gp, can carry up to 4,000 lbs, 120 hp and, and requires the same horse to pull it as the light wagon as well as the same Drive check. Under a level system: everything would change. The heavy wagon would require 4 horses to pull it, meaning the DC for the Drive check would increase, but so would the amount of cargo that can be hauled. The amount of cargo the vehicle can carry is level dependent. With a level system, you can definitely say that a wagon can carry this much cargo at this level. Next the ramming damage should be changed. The ramming damage under a level system would change based on the level of the vehicle, not on its size. Sure, size should be a factor, but it should be the constant added onto the die roll, not the die roll itself. If it were a creature, its size should be the Strength modifier while the level determines the number of dice to roll for damage. On and on, all the vehicles should have level-based components to them.
Tell me what you think. Do you feel that vehicles should have a level?