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 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.