Newbie Guide to Pathfinder Systems

Third Draft 07/06/2020–Please Comment; l added a DR section in weapon styles and party composition advice

I’ve tried to organize the guide among the following topics

(1) How To Hit Successfully With Weapons
(2) How To Attack Multiple Times Per Round With Weapons
(3) How To Choose A Fighting Style
(4) How To Use Armor Class To Avoid Being Hit With Weapons
(5) How To Buff Effectively
(6) How To Avoid Spells (Or Cast Spells That Will Be Hard To Avoid)
(7) What Does A Balanced Party Look Like

I might add a party building advice section, but don’t plan to do so right now. Any comments or criticism is appreciated.

Topic 1: How To Hit With Weapons

Here are the basic mechanics behind a weapon attack: when a character attacks with a weapon, the game rolls a 20-sided die to decide whether the character hits his target. The game adds various bonuses to the roll and compares that total to the target’s Armor Class (“AC”). If the total equals or exceeds the AC, then the character hits the target and damage will be dealt.

Several bonuses affect the to-hit roll, including feats, buffs, the weapon used, fighting style, and character positioning. A new player should focus primarily upon the character’s attribute score in strength or dexterity and the character’s Base Attack Bonus (“BAB”) because (1) they mathematically matter more and (2) because they cannot be fixed without a respecialization mod.

1. Attribute Scores

With respect to attribute scores, if your character uses a melee weapon to deal damage or melee-ranged touch spells, strength generally influences your to-hit rolls. If your character uses a ranged weapon or ranged touch spells, dexterity generally influences your to-hit rolls. The main exceptions are rogues (who gain the weapon finesse trait at lvl 1) and other classes that select the weapon finesse feat, which allow the character to use his dexterity bonus instead of strength for melee to-hit rolls. A characters gains a +1 bonus on his to-hit roll for every two attribute points of strength or dexterity in excess of 10 (i.e., a 12 strength is +1, a 14 strength is +2, etc.). If you want your character to mainly deal damage with a weapon (as opposed to being a spell caster), make your life easier and start with an 18 in your main stat (strength or dexterity).

2. Base Attack Bonus

BAB is more complicated than attribute scores and mathematically more influential. It also depends solely on which class or classes your character chooses and isn’t a very visible system (and therefore, is very easy to mess-up without knowing it). Here’s what you need to know:

Different classes gain BAB at different rates, and fall into three categories: full BAB classes, 3/4 BAB classes, and 1/2 BAB classes. Full BAB classes are melee juggernauts, e.g. fighters, paladins, barbarians, slayers, monks, rangers, etc., and gain 1 BAB for every class level and will have +20 BAB at level 20.

3/4 BAB classes (e.g., cleric, druid, rogue, bard, magus, etc.) gain +3 BAB over 4 class levels and will have +15 BAB at level 20. They do not gain BAB for their first level in the class, but gain BAB for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th levels. This pattern then resets, i.e the character does not gain BAB at class level 5, but gains BAB at class levels 6, 7 and 8.

1/2 BAB classes (wizards, sorcerers) gain +2 BAB over 4 class levels and will have +10 BAB at level 20. They do not gain BAB at odd levels (e.g., 1, 3, 5, etc.) and gain BAB at even levels (e.g., 2, 4, 6, etc.).

  • BAB Point 1:BAB Heavily Influences Your Chance To Hit.

If your character deals damage with “weapons,” BAB is extremely important because it increases your chance to hit with each attack.

PF relies on rolls using a 20-sided dice to determine whether a character hits. A +1 on your die roll is approximately a 5% increase in your chance to hit. At lvl 20, a full BAB class will have +20 BAB, a 3/4 BAB class will have +15 BAB, and a 1/2 BAB class will have +10 BAB. If a full BAB has a 65% chance to hit, then a 3/4 BAB class will have a 40% chance to hit and a 1/2 BAB class will have a 15% chance to hit.

  • BAB Point 2: BAB Controls How Many Attacks Your Character May Make.

In addition to influencing your chance to hit, BAB controls how many times your character can attack in “full action”–more on this below. When a character’s BAB hits 6, 11, 16, he gains one additional attack each round at 5 BAB less than his previous attack. For example, a lvl 6 fighter (full BAB class) will attack twice: once at +6 BAB and a second time at +1 BAB. Similarly, a lvl 11 fighter will attack three times per round, at +11, +6, and +1 BAB. Because increasing a character’s class level is the only way to increase a character’s BAB, full BAB classes will hit the extra attack breakpoints (and receive extra attacks) earlier than 3/4 BAB classes. In comparison to the full BAB fighter above, a 3/4 BAB class will receive an extra attack at lvls 8, 15. And as explained in BAB Strategic Point 1, the fighter’s BAB (and therefore it’s chance to hit) will be higher in addition to having more attacks. Because 3/4 classes already have lower BAB than full BAB classes, it is risky to use a Two-Weapon Fighting style because that style penalizes their to-hit die rolls even further (unless, of course, you can boost their to-hit rolls and compensated for their lower BAB).

  • BAB Point 3:Multi-Classing Into A 3/4 or 1/2 BAB Class Hurts Your BAB.

Because 3/4 BAB classes lose one BAB for every four levels invested in the class and 1/2 BAB class lose one BAB for every two levels invested in the class, and because that BAB is lost on the first level invested in the class, multiclassing too much can substantially reduce your BAB. For example, if a character invests 1 lvl in magus, alchemist, bard, and cleric (all 3/4 BAB classes), he will have 0 BAB because the character does not gain any BAB for the first level in each of those 3/4 BAB classes. If instead the character had invested 4 levels in magus, he would have +3 BAB—a 15% higher chance to hit and half-way towards earning a second attack. One consequence of this system is that their are natural break points when multiclassing. If you invest 1 level in a 3/4 class, you can then invest 3 more class levels without losing BAB. If you invest one level in a 1/2 BAB class, you can invest a second level without losing BAB. Because of this, multi-classing is more complex than single-classing and can sabotage your character without carefully thinking about your build ahead of time. In addition, you should always ask yourself whether the BAB loss is worth it for a 3/4 or 1/2 BAB class before investing that first level. Once you do so, you’ve lost that 1 BAB forever.

  • BAB Point 4:BAB Affects “Weapons,” Not Just Weapons.

BAB doesn’t just affect weapons, but but anything involving a to-hit roll. This includes not just weapons,but fists/unarmed, “natural” attacks (claws, bites, tentacles, etc.), certain spells (touch and ranged touch attacks) and bombs. Because of this, even some spell casters (particularly arcane tricksters and blaster mages–depending upon their preferred spells) care about BAB.

2. Topic 2: How Do I Attack Multiple Times Per Round With Weapons

Pathfinder combat is based upon the “round.” In a round, your character can perform an unlimited number of free actions, one swift action and either (1) a move action and a standard action or (2) a full action. The most important trade-off to remember is that if you stand-still, you can perform a full action. If you move, you can only perform a standard action (generally). The primary difference is that a standard action is a single attack with your weapon. If you want to perform more than a single attack, i.e. because your BAB is high enough to earn multiple attacks or because you are dual-wielding a second weapon in your offhand, then you need a full-round action. Put differently, when a character moves, he or she is sacrificing the opportunity to attack multiple times, which substantially reduces the value of the two-weapon fighting style and the extra attacks of a full BAB class.

  • Attack Point 1: Movement Reduces Attacks Per Round (And Therefore Damage); Classes Who Move Less Are Better And Classes Who Don’t Need To Move Are Best.

Full BAB archers (Fighters, Slayers, Rangers, etc.) are extremely strong because they don’t need to move. They can perform a full round action every round. This means they provide extremely reliable, consistent and high damage because they don’t need to move and therefore can attack many times each round (in addition to being able to attack the enemy’s backline).

Similarly, characters with a reach weapon (glavies, fauchards, bardiche’s, halberds, etc.) or whose size has been increased (e.g., with the enlarge person buff) have longer range and will not need to move as much. This improves their ability to perform full-actions because they need to move less.

  • Attack Point 2: Barbarians W/ Pounce Can Move And Perform A Full Round Action.

This–the ability to charge at twice their normal speed and make all their attacks–is why Barbarians are exceptional melee damage dealers. They have lots of attacks; they reliably use all their attacks; and they have few dead rounds (i.e., rounds where they are stuck moving between targets and therefore not attacking).

  • Caveat: In PNP, A Character Can Move A Short Distance And Still Perform A Full Round Action; This Doesn’t Appear To Have Been Implemented In KM

In PNP, a character can move up to 5 feet (iirc) and still perform a full round attack. I did some testing in KM, RTWP, and it looked to me that a character lost their full round action if the character moved at all. This was difficult to test, and they might implement it differently in Wrath.

Topic 3: How Do I Choose A Fighting Style

There are three fighting styles that focus on dealing damage: (1) two-handed; (2) two-weapon; and (3) natural weapons. There are a few others, i.e. sword-and-board, shield slam, two-handing a one-hand weapon, etc. I don’t plan to cover them because they are sub-optimal for damage dealing. Instead of saying which style is the “best,” I’ll lay out the pros and cons of each style and some points on how to build that style well.

  • Two-Handed

Two-Handed style involves using a single weapon with both hands and has numerous benefits. First, the weapon’s damage die (i.e. the size of die that is rolled to determine damage) is generally larger (i.e. d10 or d12 vs. a d4, d6 or d8), which means it has higher overall damage. Second, a two-handed weapon receives a 50% larger strength bonus to damage (i.e., if a character has an 18 strength, which supplies a +4 bonus to your to-hit roll and a +4 bonus to your damage roll, and if the character uses the two-handed style, he’ll receive a +6 bonus to his damage roll instead). Third, some two-handed weapons are reach weapons, which means the character will have to move less in combat (and therefore be able to use all their attacks more frequently) and will be able to benefit from more “attacks of opportunity.” Fourth, a two-handed style deals more damage per attack, meaning it can overcome “damage reduction” more easily. Finally, the two-handed style does not penalize your to-hit roll.

  • Two-Weapon/Dual-Wielding Style

Dual wielding involves using a one-handed weapon in each hand and has one primary benefit: the character makes an extra attack with their off-hand weapon and later in the game, through feats, can gain a second and a third extra attack at -5 and -10 penalties to hit. 3 additional attacks are a huge upside–a 3/4 BAB class goes from 3 to 6 attacks by end-game and a full BAB class goes from 4 to 7.

This styles, however, imposes severe penalties that must be managed by the correct selection of feats, weapons, buffs, and attribute points. First, two-weapon fighting imposes huge penalties on your to-hit rolls (i.e. -6 on the main hand and -10 on the off-hand, which equate to roughly a 30% and 50% reduced chance to hit). Those are character-ending penalties and must be mitigated. The two-weapon fighting feat, which requires dexterity 13, reduces these penalties (i.e., -4 on the main hand, -4 on the off-hand). If the character uses a “light” weapon in the off-hand, the penalties are reduced further (-2 on the main hand, -2 on the off-hand), which is approximately a 10% less chance to hit for each attack. Second, because a dual-wield character should use a light weapon to reduce to-hit penalties, their off-hand attacks have a small weapon die (typically, d4). This means that the off-hand weapon will not add much damage on its own and that the player will rely heavily upon flat damage bonuses from his or her attributes (strength/dexterity) or sneak attack dice for the off-hand attacks to matter. Third, in order to get the two-weapon fighting feat, improved two-weapon fighting and greater two-weapon fighting (which reduce the to-hit penalties and give the 2nd and 3rd offhand attack, respectively), the character needs dexterity scores of 13, 17, and 19, respectively. This requires a substantial investment in dexterity. This is fine for rogues, whose lvl 1 and lvl 3 class features allow them to use dexterity to increase their chance to-hit and damage, but is crippling for other classes that rely upon strength because the attribute points invested in dexterity trade-off with points that could have been invested in strength. As a result, an effective dual-wielding class invests either (1) invests 3 or 4 (3 is required, but 4 gains debilitating strike, uncanny dodge and a rogue talent without reducing your BAB) rogue levels to gain the rogue class features to convert dexterity into to-hit and damage, or (2) invests in ranger or slayer, which have allow them to gain the two-weapon fighting feats without meeting the dexterity requirements. Fourth, dual-wielding with some builds (rogues, vivisectionists, etc.) requires at least a 3-feat investment (usually you’ll want a fourth feat: double-slice, but this depends upon your strentgh) ). That may (or may not) matter, depending upon how many feats your build has and how many of the necessary feats can be acquired through class features (ranges, slayers, for example have class features that provide the core feats). Finally, and this is probably obvious by now, dual-wielding builds are penalized heavily when they have to move because they require a full-round action to use all of their attacks. A 2-handed style will have fewer attacks and therefore lose a smaller percentage of its damage when limited to standard actions because of movement.

  • Natural Weapons

Natural weapons are claws, bites, tentacles, etc. There are a number of class and race builds that allow a character at very early levels to gain lots of natural weapon attacks. Typically, these involve pairing a tiefling motherless (1 free bite attack) with a vivisectionist w/ feral mutagen (1 bite attack, 2 claw attacks while affected by mutagen), with a barbarians with lesser beast totem (2 claw attacks while raging) or, in Wrath, with an abyssal or draconic bloodragers (both bloodlines provide claws) and dragon disciple. There are other races (like
Lizards or skin walkers) and class/archetype combinations in PNP (like a Kraken Caller) that also work exceptionally. Natural weapons have the same upside as dual-wielding, i.e. more attacks, but they avoid many of the downsides (i.e., primary natural attacks are made at the character’s BAB without a penalty, assuming the character does not use a weapon, although “secondary” natural attacks are at -5 BAB; they don’t require a heavy feat and dexterity investment in dual-wielding, which allows the character to invest heavily into strength and have the option later in the game to switch to a two-handed build). Early game, natural weapon builds tend to be very strong because enemies have low hit point totals and tend to die when hit by an attack, in which case having multiple attacks translates to multiple kills per round.

Here are the downsides: natural weapons give-up using a weapon because, if you use a weapon, you’ll lose the natural weapon (typically claw) attack with the hand or hands holding the weapon and any other natural weapon attacks have a -5 penalty to your to-hit. Because the damage die for natural weapons are fairly small (d4, d6 or d8), because they only get 100% of your strength bonus to damage (instead of 150% with a 2-handed weapon), and because they do not grow like magic weapons (i.e., longsword +1, +2, etc.), they do not scale as well as other weapons and weaken later in the game when enemies begin to have Damage Reduction (“DR”). Perhaps most importantly, you do not earn extra attacks with natural weapons for a higher BAB, unlike with regular weapons. Also–if you use a “reach” weapon, your bite attack will require your character to be closer to the target. This may cause your character to move that round (when you didn’t want them to) and may cause your character to be closer to the enemies than you intended. Even though natural weapons scale poorly, they are extremely strong early game in comparison to normal weapons, and they are especially strong when paired with a class (like a vivisectionist) that relies upon sneak attack die to deal damage. However, because natural weapons require a very small feat investment or no feat investment, you often can switch from natural weapons to a 2-handed weapon later in the game. You’ll likely won’t be as strong as a character who has built exclusively for 2-handed weapons since level 1, but in exchange you’ll have been much stronger character for the early game–which tends to be the hardest part of the game, if you’re building a solid party.

  • Damage Reduction

Some enemies have Damage Reduction (“DR”). DR is rare for humanoid opponents, but far more common for planar entities (like demons). DR is a flat reduction in the amount of damage caused by each hit. For example,
If a character is hit for 20 damage, and if that character has DR 5, then 15 damage will be applied to the character. DR oftentimes has a weakness that causes the attack to ignore the DR. In game, these are written as DR 5/Cold Iron or DR 7/Good. If an attack has the weakness, ie the weapon is cold iron or has been enchanted or buffed with the good property, it will ignore the DR.

DR severely penalized dual weapon and natural weapon builds far more than a two-handed build because DR applies to every attack that hits and because flat DR will be a larger percentage of an attack that deals less damage per hit. A simple example shows this: compare a two-handed weapon user who hits for 20 damage on an enemy with DR 5 vs a dual weapon or natural weapon user who hits twice for 10 damage each. The two-handed user will deal 15 damage per round—a 25% reduction in damage. The dual wielded will only deal 5 damage per hit for 10 total damage per round—a 50% reduction.

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Topic 4: How Do I Use Armor Class To Avoid Being Hit By Weapons (i.e. Tanking)

Hitting an enemy is the most effective strategy for avoiding damage because a dead enemy deals no damage. Armor Class (“AC”) is the ntext void being hit by “weapons”–again, this includes touch or ranged touch spells. If the enemy’s to-hit die roll is greater than your AC class, then the enemy generally will hit. If it’s less than your AC, the enemy generally misses (note: there are a few exceptions, which I discuss below).

Here’s how your normal AC is calculated: 10 + Dexterity Bonus + Armor + Armor Enhancement + Deflection + Natural Armor + Dodge + Shield +/- Size (smaller things are harder to hit, bigger things are easier to hit). Note, I’ve left out a few more esoteric bonuses to armor, like Insight or Sacred bonuses. If you want to increase your armor class, double-check that you aren’t missing any bonuses and that you are maximizing each variable in the equation.

There are two other types of AC, but only one (Touch AC) is especially important. Touch AC reflects the role-playing story behind certain spells, i.e. if someone shoots you with a stream of blazing hot fire, you’ll take damage from the heat if you are “touched” and your plate mail, shield, and scales won’t protect you as they might against an axe. Mechanically, Touch AC is calculated like your normal AC, except that the Armor, Shield, Armor Enhancement, and Natural Armor bonuses don’t apply. Even though 1/2 BAB classes have a lower chance to hit, their spells almost always target a much lower Touch AC, which is how they remain competitive.

  • AC Point 1: Dexterity Is King.

In some adventures, there are a lot of enemies who target Touch AC. In some adventures, there are few enemies who target Touch AC. But because dexterity bonuses benefit both your normal AC and your Touch AC, it almost always helps for you to survive. In comparison, your full plate fighter with a massive shield and lots of natural armor might help, depending on whether you’re resisting a battle axe or a ray blasting arcane trickster. Because dexterity is consistent and armor/natural armor/shield can be bypassed, dexterity is king for tanks.

  • AC Point 2: Because Dexterity Is King, Heavy Armor Is Bad.

An unarmored character can have an unlimited AC bonus from dexterity. If you have 20 dexterity, you’ll receive +5 AC (+1 per 2 dexterity). If you have 40 dexterity, you’ll receive +10 AC. Heavy armor, however, has a maximum dexterity bonus (the amount varies depending upon the item, but it’s typically 1 or so). This forces a trade-off. If you wear heavy armor (which caps-out at around +14 AC), you’ll have essentially no dexterity bonus and will melt against attacks that target Touch AC. Instead, you can wear no armor and stack lots of dexterity. You will have slightly less AC against typical weapons, but much better Touch AC. Will Wrath have lots of enemies who target Touch AC? Who knows. Be safe; don’t risk it.

  • AC Point 3: Dexterity Is King, But Likes A Queen

Dexterity is great, but there are only so many ways you can boost a single stat. It’s reasonable to assume that your typical, dexterity tank will have a dexterity of 28 end-game, 18 starting dexterity, 4 dexterity from level gains, 6 dexterity from enhancement bonus. That’s still only +14 AC—roughly equivalent to heavy armor. The best tanking builds will select classes (like a monk, scaled fist or sword saint) that will convert another attribute—like wisdom or charisma or intelligence—to armor class.

  • AC Point 4: Dexterity Tanks Are MAD–Multiple Attribute/Ability Dependent.

Per Point 3, a dexterity tank will often multiclass into a monk, scaled fist or sword saint so they have two (or even 3) attributes that provide bonuses to armor class, not just dexterity. Because of this, a dexterity tank is much better when they can find items that provide enhancement bonuses to lots of attributes and they are weaker when those items don’t exist in the game. We don’t know yet whether those items will exist in Wrath.

  • AC Point 5: At Some Point, More AC Is Irrelevant And Spells Like Mirror Image, Blur & Displacement Are All That Matters.

End game enemies will have to-hit rolls; the most they can roll is a 20. Together with all their bonuses to that roll, there’s a maximum value. Once your AC hits that maximum value, they cannot hit your character, except on a natural 20 (ie they roll a 20 and threaten a critical). This means that your real risk of a tank dying is a natural 20 that threatens a critical hit. How do you protect against that residual risk?

The best/only ways are blur/displacement, mirror image and preserved organs. Blur and displacement give a 20%/40% chance for every hit to just miss. Mirror image creates images that can take the natural 20 hit for you. And preserved organs reduce the chance for the natural 20 to actually be a critical hit with high burst. Most arcane classes can cast blur/displacement. But mirror image is a personal spell, meaning your character must have caster classes to use it. And preserved organs is an alchemist feat. Grab as many as you can.

  • AC Point 6: Dexterity Isn’t Foolproof; Beware Low Initiative Rolls.

I mentioned above that there was a third type of armor class, but that it wasn’t particularly relevant. That third type of AC is called flat footed AC and it applies on the first round of combat. During the first round of combat, dexterity will not contribute to your character’s armor class until your character takes his or her turn. This means that a dexterity-based tank will be flat footed on the first round of combat and lose their dexterity bonus to AC (which is a huge portion of their AC). While dexterity increases a character’s initiative and means they are likely to go early in the turn, that isn’t guaranteed. In short, there’s a narrow window of risk at the beginning of combat for a dexterity tank.

  • AC Point 7: Monk Splashing, Fighting Defensively, Mobility Skill And Crane Style Feats.

If you’re tanking, you’ll be using the “Fighting Defensively” style. This style reduces the character’s chance to-hit by -4, but gives a +2 dodge bonus to AC. If your tank has mobility skill of 3 or more (which he should), fighting defensively provides a +3 dodge bonus to AC instead.

If you are fighting defensively, you’d be foolish not to have the Crane Style feat, which reduces the to-hit penalty from -4 to -2 and which provides another +1 dodge bonus to armor class. The best way to obtain crane style is to multi-class into 1 lvl of monk. This does not penalize your BAB (because monk is a full BAB class) and the 1 lvl splash gains you a free feat (which you can use to select crane style, assuming you’ve chosen dodge as your other starting feat).

With crane style and mobility 3, fighting defensively will reduce your chance to-hit by -2 and provide a +4 dodge bonus to AC. Mathematically, this means your character will hit approximately 10% less, but you’ll be hit approximately 20%–which is massive.

  • AC Point 8: Strength Tanks Oftentimes Deal More Damage, Require Fewer Feats, Are Easier To Build, And Will Be Less Painful For The First Few Levels.

Strength tanks will typically deal 20-30% more damage than dexterity tanks (1) because they typically can be built with classes that are full BAB (whereas dexterity tanks oftentimes have levels in 3/4 BAB classes); (2) because they strength increases melee chance-to-hit and damage whereas dexterity generally does not (or they have have more feats available because the dexterity tank selects weapon finesse and slashing/fencing grace feats); and (3) because legendary proportions and some classes (abyssal bloodragers, dragon disciples, etc.) provide more buffs to strength than you can achieve with just dexterity (which is pretty much limited to an enhancement bonus from an item and your base dexterity). Also, because a strength/plate tank will oftentimes have less (or no) multi-classing, they do not involve the BAB risks of multi-classing and can be easier for a new player. Finally, strength tanks typically gain their AC very early in the game because a significant portion of that AC comes from heavy armor and a heavy shield, which can be purchased and equipped (assuming you have enough gold) at level 1. While that armor and shield will not scale as well through the game (i.e., full plate has 9 AC and scales to 14 by end game; a heavy shield has 2 AC and scales to 7 by end game), it will typically be stronger for levels 1-3. By lvl 5, a dexterity tank will have caught up with buffs like mage armor, the shield spell, and their natural dexterity and secondary stat buffs.

If you want to build a strength tank who wears heavy armor and has a shield, here are some general guidelines. Dexterity will not be as valuable because the heavy armor will likely limit you to a +1 dodge bonus to AC from dexterity (unless your class talents change this, like the baseline fighter).

Here’s a simple example (which I’ve chosen for it’s simplicity, not because it’s the “best”):

Fighter 19/Monk 1

Wear the heaviest armor you can find; use the best heavy shield you can find; start with 13 dexterity for dodge and 13 intelligence for combat expertise. Splash 1 level of monk at level 2 to get crane style. You’ll want to grab feats like dodge, heavy armor: focus, shield: focus, greater shield focus, the crane style feats, and combat expertise. You’ll select Outflank and Shield Wall as teamwork feats (assuming another team member has them) and grab the fighter’s weapon specialization feats. You’ll use Fighting Defensively, which means get mobility skill to level 3. Armor Training (your fighter class feature) allows your fighter to gain additional AC from dexterity beyond what your heavy armor allows: +1/2/3/4 at fighter levels 3/7/11/15. Assuming that your heavy armor has a maximum dexterity bonus of 1, you’ll want to have dexterity of 14/16/18/20 at fighter levels 3/7/16/18/20. If you start with dexterity 13 (to provide access to dodge) and 18 strength, you can increase your dexterity to 14 at level 4 and then rely on finding items with a +2/4/6 enhancement bonuses to meet your other breakpoints. In terms of itemization, you’ll want to find items that provide a +5 deflection bonus to AC (usually a ring, but also provided by Armor of Faith spell), +5 enhancement bonus to natural armor (usually a necklace, but also provided from the Barkskin spell). Towards the endgame, you’ll have an AC something like this: 10 (base AC) + 14 (heavy armor + 5) + 7 (heavy shield + 5) + 5 (dexterity bonus to AC) + 5 (deflection bonus from ring) + 5 (enhancement bonus to natural armor from necklace) + 6 (dodge, shield focus, heavy armor focus, greater shield focus, shield wall) + 4 (fighting defensively, with mobility skill 3 and crane style) + 6 (combat expertise, assuming 20 levels of full BAB classes) = 62. Your fighter will end with a baseline 28 strength: 18 (base) + 4 (attribute growths at levels 8/12/16/20) + 6 (enhancement bonus to strength from item). Both the AC and strength can be (and should be) buffed further with legendary proportions (+6 size bonus to strength, +6 size bonus to natural armor), for an AC of 68 and strength of 34. That’s probably more than enough to eliminate your chance to be hit from anything other than a natural 20 and still have respectable damage output. To mitigate your residual risk, you’ll want an arcane caster to cast Blur/Displacement upon your character. You’ll have plenty of feats with Fighter 19 and intelligence 13 will probably give you enough skill points, so you’ll probably want Aasimar as a race so you can select the Wings feat (versus the regular human, which provides a bonus feat and bonus skill points).

Similarly, you can try something like Aldori Defender 8/Monk 1/ Bloodrager w/ Draconic Bloodline 4/Dragon Disciple 4/XXXX 3. Compared to a baseline fighter, Aldori Defender gains 4 AC over 8 levels and does not rely upon dexterity to do so. This frees 7 additional levels, which are used in this build to select 4 levels of bloodrager to qualify for dragon disciple and then 7 levels of dragon disciple, netting the character +4 strength bonus, +2 natural armor bonus (from bloodrager bloodline, increased by 4 dragon disciple levels), +2 natural armor bonus (from dragon disciple). You could dump the remaining 3 levels into dragon disciple, netting +2 constitution, another +1 natural armor bonus at the cost of 1 BAB. Or you could dump them into paladin to convert your charisma bonus into saves. In comparison, this build will have +4 strength, +5 natural armor, +2 constitution, -2 BAB (which is offset by the strength), and -4 AC from dexterity compared to the above build.

Note: Owlcat might be tinkering with Dragon Disciple in Alpha (or it might be bugged), so this might not work. Similarly, per Paizo, dragon disciple should work with bloodrager, but because bloodrager was created after dragon disciple, it technically doesn’t satisfy the “sorcerer” bloodline requirement for dragon disciple.

Alternatively, you could build Aldori Defender 8/Vivisectionist 12. This will allow access to greater mutagen–+6 mutagen bonus to strength, +4 mutagen bonus to dexterity or constitution–gains 6 sneak attack die (approximately +21 damage per hit) and provides access to useful buffs (and can even give personal buffs to the team, like shield). It loses -3 BAB from the 12 levels of vivisectionist (a 3/4 class), which is offset by the mutagen bonus, in comparison to the baseline class, but bring much better damage and useful buffs.

Topic 5: How Do I Buff Effectively

Each buff belongs to a category. You have to read the item’s or spell’s text to learn its category. The main (but not only) categories are enhancement, morale, armor, natural armor, dodge, deflection and size. There are rarer types as well: insight, sacred, mutagen, or competence. Generally, buffs stack when they have different types; buffs do not stack when they have the same type. For example, if a character has a +4 enhancement buff to strength (e.g., from the 2nd level, arcane spells Bull’s Strength) and has a +2 enhancement bonus to strength from his belt, the character will only have +4 bonus to strength because the buffs have the same type and therefore do not stack. Meanwhile, a character with a +4 enhancement bonus to strength and a +2 mutagen bonus to strength will have +6 bonus to strength because the buffs have different types and will stack. Dodge gained through class is the main exception to this rule. Also, natural armor is tricky. Items that provide an enhancement bonus to natural armor stack with natural armor gain through class feats (i.e., your necklace with a +1 enhancement bonus to natural armor will stack with the natural armor gained from your dragon disciple prestige class).

  • Buff Point 1: Buffs Are Good; More Buffs Are Better

Some buff types are quite common (enhancement, morale) and some types are quite rare (i.e., a competence bonus from a bard’s song). Building a party with diverse buff types is very strong. A party without access to buffs is much weaker. Bards and alchemists are probably the best buffing classes in the game. Bards have access to very useful buff spells and earn some of those spells are earlier spell levels than wizards/sorcerors and provide a hard-to-replace competence buff from their songs. Alchemists can select the infusion discovery, which allows them to cast “personal” spells–which can ordinarily can only be placed on the caster–onto anyone. Shield is the best example of this, which gives a +4 shield bonus to AC to characters who do not have (or cannot equip) a shield.

  • Buff Point 2: A Character’s Role Influences Which Types of Buffs Are Most-Important.

The main categories of buffs to consider for a frontline character (i.e., a tank) are deflection, natural armor, armor, dodge, shield and enhancement bonuses to dexterity (or any other attribute that converts to AC). These characters should maximize their armor class by having buffs to deflection (almost always a ring of protection, but also the divine spells armor of faith), natural armor (spells like barkskin, rings or necklaces of natural armor), armor (spells like mage armor or bracers of armor or by wearing heavy armor), and shield (either by equipping a shield or through the shield spell) and armor enhancement (by having an magic armor, like plate mail +1, or the lvl 3 cleric spell magical vestment–which may or may not stack and which may or may not be a bug). As explained above, there’s a trade-off between armor and dexterity.

You’ll want your damage dealers to have an enhancement bonus to strength or dexterity, a morale bonus to their hit rolls (spells like bless or heroism), an enhancement bonus to their weapon, and a competence bonus from a bard.

  • Buff Point 3: Buffs Scale With Party Size (And Animal Companions).

AOE buffs, like a bard’s song, are more powerful if you have more characters (ie +5 competence bonus across a 6 man party isn’t as strong as a 6 man party with 2 animal companions). Buffs are stronger with more attacks (ie a barbarian’s +2 rage buff on a 2-Hand weapon user with 2 attacks isn’t as strong as that same +2 rage buff on Two-Weapon user with 3 attacks). This is one reason why full BAB classes are especially strong: their BAB earns them extra attacks, and with buffs, they can make all of their attacks (even the 3rd and 4th attacks) likely to hit.

  • Buff Strategic Point 4: Buffing Is Better Than Debuffing.

Buffing your characters is almost always better than debuffing the enemy. Enemies die. When you attack the next enemy, you don’t benefit from the debuff anymore. In contrast, buffs generally last a long time and continue to benefit the character so long as he stays alive.

  • Buff Strategic Point 6: Too Many Buffs Can Be Exhausting.

After playing 80 hours of game and rebuffing your characters after every rest, it can get tiring. There’s something to be said about having a party that doesn’t require you to cast 30 spells after a long-rest.

Topic 6: How Do I Avoid Spells (Or Ensure That My Spells Affect Their Targets) & Saving Rolls.

Whereas weapons–including touch and ranged touch spells–are resisted by Armor Class, many spells are resisted by the character’s fortitude, reflex, or will saving thrown. When targeted by a spell, the character rolls a 20-sided die and adds his saving throw modifier. If the total equals or exceeds the spell’s Difficulty Class (“DC”), the target resists or nullifies the spell (you’ll have to read the spell’s text to see the effect). If the total is less than the spell’s DC, the spell affects the target.

A character’s saving throw is largely determined by your class level. All class are strong at one or more of these saves. All classes are weak at one or more of these saves. Beefy classes tend to have weak will saves. Casters tend to have weak fortitude saves. Agile characters tend to have strong reflex saves whereas others do not. Your saves can be increased by your attributes. Constitution increases fortitude; dexterity increase reflex; wisdom increases will. Saves can also be increased by feats.

A caster’s DC is determined by how the spell affects the target. It is generally calculated as DC = 10 + Spell Level + Caster’s Attribute Modifier (ie Intelligence Bonus for Wizards, Wisdom for Clerics, Charisma from Sorcerors, etc.). Feats (specifically, Spell Focus feats) can increase your DC.

  • Save/DC Point 1: Target Your Enemy’s Weak Saves, Not Their Strong Saves.

Your enemies will be strong against some types of saves and weak against others. Target their weak saving type. You don’t need to memorize these; just have the inspect option on during a fight and hover your mouse of the enemy. For this reason, it’s usually a good idea to prepare a variety of spells targeting different save types.

  • Save/DC Point 2: A 2-LVL Paladin Splash Can Bolster A Tank.

For tanks who want to really protect themselves against saving spells—which might or might not be necessary in Wrath—a 2 lvl splash in Paladin is helpful. That will add your Charisma bonus to your saving throws. This can then be paired with a 1 lvl dip in Scaled Fist Monk to convert Charisma to AC.

  • Save/DC Point 3: Lower Levels Spells Become Less Effective Over Time

Other than your caster’s primary attribute score, a spell’s DC largely depends upon the level at which it is cast. As the game progresses, enemies will become stronger (and have higher saves). Your spell’s level doesn’t, which means that the chance of a lower level spell being resisted increases as the game progresses.

  • Save/DC Point 4: Heighten Spell Feat Keeps Spells Effective

If a lower level spells is especially useful, you can obtain the Heighten Spell Feat and cast that lower level spell at a higher spell level. This helps to keep the lower level’s spell effective as the game continues.

  • Save/DC Point 5: Some Spells Don’t Have A DC, Like Buffs, Summons Certain Damage Spells; Use Lower Level Slots On These.

This will help to ensure that your lower level slots are still effective later in the game, when their DC might not be high enough.

  • What Does A Balanced Party Look Like?

Here are my thoughts on what a balanced party would look like for a new player. I’ve deliberately tried to phrase the advice in terms of roles that should be covered, not classes.

A party should have at least one (and preferably two) tanks, at least one healer, at least one divine caster, at least one arcane caster, and at least 2 martial dealers.

A tank’s primary job is to prevent the enemy from hitting your squishier characters. Above, I’ve written about dexterity and heavy armor tanks. Either can work. Both should splash 1 level of monk to access the crane style feats. Another alternative is to use a monster tactician and/or multiple animal companions to tank (druids, sylvan sorcerers, and any class that gains a full level animal companion at level 1). While a party can function with 1 tank, 2 are better. First, with only 1 tank, you are running the risk that your single tank will fail a will save and become crowd controlled. The enemies will then overrun your tank and swarm your squishier party members. Second, with only one tank, your party is vulnerable to two-front fights, ie ambushed from front and back. Because Wrath will likely involve evil outsiders, I’d recommend as tanks an Aldori Defender 8, Monk 1, XXXXX sword and board tank and a Paladin 19, Monk 1 swords and board off tank. Neither of these recommendations are optimal, but smite from Paladin will be a huge damage increase for difficult fights, and Aldori Defender provides passive bonus to AC from the class and is less attribute dependent than other plate tanks. Both are simple builds, involve limited multiclassing, and can work together with teamwork feats.

Your party should have access to divine magic. This school provides buffs, powerful healing, removal of status ailments, like level loss, poison, curses, etc., and summons. While in combat healing is typically inefficient, out of combat healing gives your party much more endurance and allows them to fight longer between rests. Divine magic also has a number of spells that protect or give advantages against evil or chaotic enemies. While those were quite situational in KM, I suspect they will be far more useful in Wrath. A cleric or oracle can both fill this role. I recommend the cleric—a prepared caster—over the oracle—a spontaneous caster—because the cleric has access to all divine spells.

Your party should have access to arcane magic. This school provides substantial crowd control spells, damaging spells (both single target and AOE), summons, and attribute enhancing, protective and haste buffs. It’s extremely flexible, but does not bring healing or ailment removal. A wizard or sorcerer both fill this role. For a new player, I recommend a wizard—the prepared caster—over the sorcerer—the spontaneous caster—because the wizard will gain access to all arcane spells through leveling and scrolls.

For damage dealers, I recommend one ranged damage dealer (usually a composite bow is optimal because it benefits from both strength and dexterity) and one melee damage dealer with a reach weapon (glaive, fauchard, bardiche, poleaxe, halberd, etc. or a two-handed weapon, provides your party can regularly cast enlarge person to increase size). For the melee damage dealer, I like barbarians with the pounce ability because that allows them to move and make a full attack—invulnerable rangers are quite durable with their DR, mad dogs bring an animal companion. For the ranged martial/archer, fighters, rangers, and slayers are all excellent.

All combined a balanced party might look the the following: 2 tanks, 1 invulnerable Rager barbarian, 1 ranged archer, 1 wizard, and 1 cleric.

There are other plus factors that I like to include. Because arcane spells are so powerful, I like to include a partial arcane caster to supply more buffs to the party. This either means a bard or an alchemist. They are different. An alchemist, specifically a vivisectionist with a 1 monk splash, can be an excellent tank and bring some great buffs or allow great buffs to be cast on more than just the caster (ie bark skin, shield, echolocation, etc.). A bard also brings excellent buffs (heroism, good hope, haste, bard song, displacement, blur, stat buffs). This takes the load off your arcane casters and lets the full caster focus on damage, summons, or DC spells, and also gives you access to these buffs a bit earlier than the full caster (ie heroism and spell lvl 2 instead of lvl 3). If I take a bard, I’ll often build the bard as a strength based, reach weapon user, a dazzling display off tank, or an archer and replace the tank, melee martial or ranged martial respectively.

Finally, I emphasize this is just a recommendation for a safe party for a new player: 2 tanks, 1 full divine caster, 1 full arcane caster, 1 melee martial, and 1 ranged martial, with some pointers about how to add another half arcane caster. Other parties can and will work. Multiclassing or partial casters can work. But this is simpler and safe, which is why I’ve

Four windows should be enough…this won’t be a novel

I can already see it’s going to be a very good guide! The BAB content alone is written far better than any existing guide on the internet.

Owlcat forums disallow you to edit your posts, including your guide and each reserved post here, after X hours.

Delete this thread, use wordpad and copy paste when everything is finished. If you made a mistake you cant undo it so make sure your guide is 100% correct and leaves no grey areas or contains false information. People will note these and harp on about them while you cant do anything.

A better idea is to wait for the game to launch then post the guide in the Steam guides section. There are only so many people in here and your guide cannot be changed so posting it here is in my opinion just a waste of time.

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Good suggestion. I wasn’t aware of the time limit. I can’t delete the thread, though :(.

The limit seems to be 30 days to edit you posts. I still have the edit icon for threads I created 30 days ago, but not for the one I created about 42 days ago.

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First draft is done. Any comments are appreciated.

Comments:
topic1, attributes: You need to mention the weapon finesse feat. Rogues get it automatically, but any char can have it. If you have the feat you will use dex instead of str for hit chance with melee weapons IF your dex is higher than your str and you use a weapon with the finesse property. dex is only used for hit chance, NOT for damage than. Agile weapons or slashing/piercing grace or rogue ability add dex as damage for this weapon type (finesse weapons only of course).

Cut the “and therefore your damage”

  • A 5% reduction in hit chance leads only to a 5% reduction in damage if all of your hits deal the same damage. It is true that a reduction in hit chance usually means a reduction in damage. But usually you multi class because you want to get something from the other class, such as getting more damage. Multi classing can be useful, but you are correct that selecting a medium or low BAB class will lose at least 1 BAB which means lower hit chance and you get less attacks per round or you get them later. The new class can over compensate the hit chance and damage you have lost (e.g. dragon deciple 4 gives +4str, +2 AC and a bite attack), but the BAB loss will always hit your number of weapon attacks.

about dual wielding:

The 3/4 level rogue are confusing. I think you mean taking 3 or 4 levels of rogue for the lv3 ability to use dex for damage for one weapon type. In this case you should write “3 or 4” and not “3/4”, else people think 75% of your levels should be rogue, such as 15 levels of your lv20 char.
As written before, agile weapons and piercing/slashing grace also use dex for damage, not just rogue3. Maybe there are even more ways, there are so many classes and I cannot remember everything.

about natural weapons:
I would say its best to focus on either a one hand weapon or dual wielding.
At the moment I have problems to think of a char who focusses mostly on natural weapons.
Get more natural attacks if you can without sacrificing something else. Getting more attacks is great, but selecting several classes to get more natural attacks at the costs of BAB or useful stuff from your initial class is a bad idea.

some comments from PK:

  • If you have a reach weapon or you are enlarged, your bite (non sure about other) attacks will not get more reach. Your char could get clother to the enemy than you want.
  • According to PnP you can use every part of your body only once for an attack. In the computer game you can stack natural attacks such as having several bite attacks per round.
  • You can find magic weapons but you are stuck with your natural weapons, which means they will not get better over time.

about AC:
I agree with you that a dex tank is better than a heavy armor tank in many cases eventually. BUT:

  • At low levels (when you have few buffs and stat boost) you can equip a heavy armor and a shield plus some other stuff to have a relatively AC while usually it takes some time until dex tanks can shine.
  • Dex tanks are very MAD (multiple ability dependency). You need dex, wis or cha and maybe int for defense, plus maybe str for hit chance and damage in some cases. PK gives you items that give large bonusses to 3 stats (belts for physical, helmet mental) but those come late and they may not be there in every campaign.
  • one more info: There are 2 types of natural armor. Natural armor from items or buffs does not stack. Natural armor from classes or races does stack with everything.
    May be true for every AC bonus from classes (not sure) but most of them are dodge anyway.

This is a well-written guide, my main suggestion would be to provide a little more context about DEX tanks. They’ll generally inflict 20-30% less damage than STR tanks, for example, mainly because the game provides more ways to raise STR than DEX. You could also mention that you have much less versatility in constructing your build (because you have to take finesse, grace, etc just to get to where a STR build would naturally be) as well as the MAD issue mentioned by @Madscientist3 which might mean your base DEX will be lower than you’d like it to be. You could also mention the role played by mirror image and the like in tanking, especially on higher difficulty levels where those buffs become more important than DEX for survivability.

Good point about 3/4. It is confusing because I use that fraction earlier to describe a different concept. I’ll also add the feats that allow a melee character to increase their hit and damage, although I do feel that fencing/slashing grace are high risk for a first play through because they limit item selection.

I’ll add a cautionary note about natural attacks because they are more difficult to build. The primary build from KM is a motherless tiefling (Bonus bite attack), 2 barbarian dip for lesser beast totem (2 claw while raging, optional), 1 monk for crane, vivisectionist for feral mutagen (2 bite, 1 claw). At level 5, the character will 4-6 primary natural attacks with a 1 BAB loss (depending on whether they dip barbarian). It’s exceptionally powerful early game, and I suspect there will be similar builds involving an abyssal bloodrager in Wrath.

Good point about natural weapons compromising reach, about dex tanks being MAD (and really shining when lots of enhancement items are available, as Kingmaker) and having growing pains in the first few levels, and the stacking natural armor from items and class talents (ie dragon disciple and such). I’ll incorporate.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Thanks for the comment. I overlooked the damage loss and/or requirement that extra feats be invested to convert dex to damage because I typically view a tanks role as delaying the enemy while someone else does damage. But you’re right that I should add a comment to that effect because players otherwise might not be aware of the trade off.

I think I mentioned it later. I’ll move into the attribute section because that’s where it should go. Good point about the damage loss. Thanks for your comments.

about weapon damage:
Since you mention it you should also explain what damage reduction means, such as 5/magic, 10/cold iron or 15/-.
I think there is a ranking of qualities, where some qualities include some others. Like a +3 weapon works like silver and cold iron, adamantite counts as any other material and +5 counts as adamantite. I am not sure about the details, so it would be good to include it in a guide.

@jsaving: I agree with you
I have finished PK only once and my char was a dex tank (halfling 1 scalded fist monk, 2 paladin, 4 dragon, rest bard. I maxed out cha instead of dex for my social skills. Defense was fantastic but damage was pathetic. OK I was new to pathfinder, I wanted a tank and I wanted great persuation.

When you at lv20 chars with magic items and buffs, dex tanks are much better than str tanks. Tanks in armor also have the problem that they have to remove their armor and shield when casting buffs because of arcane spell failure (displacement and mirror image are arcane spells).
But str tanks are easier to build (less feats needed to work at all), get good AC early and do more damage. For a dex tank you need to know exactly what class ability works together with what else under which conditions and you usually need a mix of several classes which also delays your spell progression. Without a detailed guide for a build it will be hard to make a good one, as I have learned myself. A str tank is definitely useful at lower difficulty levels. ( I will never play above normal)

I am not sure if this is a good idea.
The barbarian gives claws only while raging (short duration) and I am not sure if claws work when you have weapons equipped. I think there was the issue that chars with improved unarmed combat ( needed for crane) could not get claws because their fists count as weapons. Vivi2 gives the bonus for 20 minutes at the cost of 1 BAB. Crane is only useful if you tank. I think barbariens cannot be lawful and monks must be lawful so it does not work. I do not think it is good to advise new players to change alignment during the game only for the sake to min max incompatible classes.
Plus you should think of opportunity costs. Your example lets you miss at least 5 levels of your primary class and I guess this class gives you something good, else you would not take it.

Since you mention crane style, you should mention defensive fighting somewhere when you talk about tanks.

Barbarian is completely optional—and might even be suboptimal because of the rage limit—although with vivi, you’ll have lots of spare feats and can take extra rage power. The typically build is monk 1 for crane style, vivi until 12 or 16 (16 earns a stronger mutagen, but 12 leaves enough levels splash other classes, like dragon disciple 4, archaeologist 2 for uncanny dodge, etc.) It’s extremely powerful from lvl 3 onwards—4 natural attacks at +2 BAB, crane style, mage armor, shield, sneak attack damage, no BAB loss from the monk splash. You can build dexterity to be an incredible tank or strength. There probably are some more abusive builds early game, but this is probably in the top 5.

Edit: You’re right about barbarian alignment restrictions not meshing with most monks. I don’t remember that being in KM; is that a change? It’s certainly in line with the PNP lore.

I think I should probably add the point you make above: strength tanks are usually easier/simpler to build, and provide an example of how to build one. They might be optimal for a newer player because of that simplicity/lower risk.