We’ve heard plenty of people over the years talk about how they would modify the fighter class in Pathfinder? We thought we might take a crack at it but we wanted to hear your thought on the subject.
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8 thoughts on “Pathfinder 1e: How Would You Change the Fighter?”
Overall, I think fighters are fine as in the core book. Probably the one change I’d give them would be giving them a version of martial flexibility that the Brawler has. Personally, I think that’s a bit too flexible, but think an interesting option would be for each bonus combat feat a fighter gets, let them pick 2, and at any time they can have one active, and spend a move action to switch. This gives them the flexibility to switch between many different styles of fighting, without the ridiculousness of them suddenly knowing how to fight underwater or something when they’ve grown up int he desert and never learned underwater fighting at all.
Also, I’m not sure what the survey option of fighters as presented in Pathfinder Unchained means, since fighters isn’t an unchained class. There were a few rules options which would apply to fighters, but I’ve never heard of those referred to as Fighters from Unchained before.
The fighter needs a bit more flexibility. An area effect, something to do outside combat, & whatever weapons are good ideas. Pool points, weapons from mind are bad ideas. Themes not bad. Something like favored enemy – weapon focus / specialization increasing with first weapon, then another weapon, maybe.
I have a few things I’d like to see changed.
First, lose the emphasis on ‘numbers’. Almost all fighter abilities boil down to ‘you get a bonus on these checks’.
Bravery? Bonus to will saves vs fear
Armor training? Reduce ACP in armor and increase Max Dex bonus (and gradually ignore speed penalties). Still eat fireballs and mind control effects, but at least you have the possibility of AC and mobility of a high-Dex mobility character.
Weapon training? Up to +4/+3/+2/+1 bonus to attack, damage, CMB, and CMD with weapons from up to four groups.
Armor mastery? DR 5/-, which makes a huge difference at level 19
Weapon master? Automatically confirm critical threats and increase damage multiplier with one type of weapon, and cannot be disarmed of this weapon.
Useful, nothing inspiring or interesting.
Feats kind of give new options, but unlike basically every other class that can more or less freely pick from level-appropriate abilities, feats have prerequisites, sometimes complex webs of them, to qualify for.
Neo (Wizard 10, diviner), spent almost entire career casting divinations), “Whoa, I know teleport”
Fighter 10, needs to plan several levels ahead to make sure he’s got three other weapon-specific feats so he qualifies for Greater Weapon Specialization, which increases bonus damage with a chosen weapon from +2 to +4. (To use a simple example that is… numbers again. In the CRB there are some options that are not quite so lame or don’t have as many prerequisites, but not many… and 3pp designers really like feat prerequisites and giving numbers.)
I think addong a stance mechanic to fighter might liven base fighter up. Mabye make Stance Fighter an Archetype.
so, this particular debate has kind of been done to death, but I really like the particular take on fighter from Trailblazer, which is a 3rd party sourcebook that sets out its purpose as examining the core or “spine” of the d20 OGL system. however, even that interpretation falls short of the type of fighter I wanted to play, so I eventually set out to work out my own rewrite of the class (more on that, later)
the 3 biggest points I want to touch on about the fighter are these; combat viability (ostensibly the entire purpose of the class), non-combat viability (all the stuff outside of combat rounds where the fighter is usually picking his nose), and customization.
first up, Combat viability. the fighter’s “role” seems pretty simple, looking at the way his abilities are set out. he uses weapons, armor, and shields, along with good HP and BAB, to (usually) stand at the frontline and soak enemy attacks while dealing damage with his weapons. but does he really excel at it? the short answer is “kind of.” the fighter can excel at AC early on, but never really outshines any other class at any one thing by a wide margin or for long. ultimately there’s always major failings in his ability to do his job at every CR level based on the averages of what he’ll likely be encountering, even using only core materials and monsters. his one advantage, feats, is a quagmire of trap choices with a handful of “good” options that might add a new ability or “required” options needed to maintain relevance, based on which of a handful of builds he’s aiming for. a thousand and one splatbooks added lots of options to do a whole lot of nothing, while the spellcasters got all their christmas presents early back in core release. boo. the few exceptions to this are either extraordinarily archetypal (2-handed fighter, sword-n-board) or somewhat counter-intuitive (like a bow-focused ranged fighter) and there are other classes whose whole identity is to stomp all over the fighter’s toes in these rolls (barbarian, paladin, ranger) and additional classes made entirely around the concept of “its a fighter, but its better at that thing that fighter should have been good at from the start, or at least had an option for” like Swashbuckler and cavalier. how do we address this? we’ll get to that in the section on “customization.”
our next topic is non-combat viability, also called “role-playing,” a somewhat important part of RPGs, or “role playing games.” the fighter sucks at this. badly. he has 2 skill points per level, no incentive to prioritize INT or CHA (the abilities that govern 85% of skills useful outside of combat), no class skills of much more than situational use (and many that become pointless after a party spellcaster reaches 10th level or a single magic item is purchased), and his only social skill is intimidate (which he’s bad at, because he dumped his CHA and probably spent his feats on better combat options than using intimidate). hell, the two skills he’s likely to roll the most throughout his career, Acrobatics (for tactical movement in combat) and Perception (the most rolled skill in the game) aren’t even class skills for the fighter. I get that “role-playing” is more than just skill checks, but non-combat actions do tend to rely on skills when failure has consequences, and they’re frequently used at the outset or conclusion of roleplaying segments to determine success. for particularly skillful or magical classes, they can quickly become better at things that are supposedly within the fighter’s purview than the fighter himself. background traits and feats cannot bridge the gap in this deficit. and yes, of course, the fighter is supposed to “FIGHT” but no other class is so rigidly pigeon-holed based on its title alone, and no other class is so singular in either its purpose, or its viability.
before we move on to part three though, lets clarify a few misconceptions around the words “class feature.” a class feature, in the sense that this author is using the words for the purposes of this essay, is generally a new ability that is unique to the class that no other class gets, or that only closely related classes can emulate, and that generally either expands with advancing level or who’s function is useful enough to maintain relevance at higher levels. in this regard, base proficiencies are not class features, because they are universal, can be adjusted with race and trait selections, and are equivalent to a feat according to the core rules. hell, most GMs will allow an exception on a proficiency or two, a “swap this for that” deal, or a single add-on for flavor. so while its a feature of every class, proficiencies aren’t “class features.” same goes for any class feature that boils down to a linear numerical increase of a previous class feature. “Bravery +2” can die in a fire. Bravery should just be “fighters add half their level (rounded down) to all saves versus fear effects.” and YES, that wording means it applies to the weird circumstances where a fear effect applies a FORT or REF save as well. all those levels where bravery advances should have had new and unique abilities, because tons of other class features advance numerically with level but don’t warrant a reminder on your class advancement chart for it. “Bravery +2” is a cop-out, and NOT a real class feature.
Feats are similarly not class features. every class gets feats. the fighter gets MORE FEATS instead of getting class features. if you know how to game the system, you can make something pretty cool with this, but feats don’t change the game for you the way class features do, and generally aren’t as powerful as a class feature, and we all know that “quantity over quality” is a piss-poor way to approach anything, economics be damned. and in the cases of feats that require a certain level in a certain class to acquire, why the hell didn’t they just make them class features to begin with? to cost you a feat, because that’s all you get? because they couldn’t nix “Bravery+2” for a real ability? because it’s still not strong enough to warrant the title of “class feature” so instead they bust it down to an optional tertiary ability that’s more like a neat trick? because poor game design? probably all of the above.
you know what IS a class feature? spells. you know why its the BEST class feature? because its literally the “I do what I want” class feature. and its usually SEVERAL of these daily, reusable, select-able, interchangeable, advance-able, customize-able abilities. anything you can imagine can be hacked out in a spell, and usually in a way where the dice favor you. many spells outright ignore the very simplest core rules of the game that the fighter is beholden to from start to finish. forget bending space-time, spells let you flat-out IGNORE the rules of the game that require you to roll dice to see if you succeed for fail. OR they switch the impetus to the other side, meaning instead of the wizard rolling to see if he succeeds or fails, the other side has to roll to see if THEY succeed or fail in avoiding some or all of an effect. that power is what puts spellcasters at the top of meta “tier” lists, and why the fighter lacks agency both in combats and out. and if the wizard, bard, druid, and cleric in the party all have a spell to solve a given problem, what is the fighter left to do? stand there and swing a stick?
this brings us to point number 3, Customization. Customization is one of the biggest draws of spellcasters, because after all, you can customize your spell list every day, or specialize in a particular type of spell and use it over and over. you can be prepared for anything, or have a fireball for everyone, and that crap is FUN. the supposed drawbacks and limits on these spellcasters are illusory as well, since a limitation every player and GM ignores because its boring, tedious, and needlessly complex is NOT A REAL LIMITATION. think about it… do you studiously check your players spell list every day, and insist all their slots are spent at the start of the adventuring day? do you force them to obsessively catalog the type and amount of every spell component they need and track encumbrance for their 8 Strength? of course you don’t, because that shit is boring and obstructive to actual game-play. so a lot of spellcasters get carte blanche to play things fast and loose with their spells as long as they’re paying their gold (which isn’t a real resource expenditure since they can frequently harangue the party for gold until the level where they can conjure it out of thin air en masse on downtime days) and using their slots per day or a magic item (which, with scribe scroll and other item creation feats, plus the aforementioned gold limit not really being a limit, means they frequently get many more castings per day than they could ever actually need).
some would argue that the fighter is the most customize-able martial class, which is true to an extent, but when Brawler, Cavalier, Gunslinger, Samurai, and Swashbuckler all came along, it made it very clear that it wasn’t customize-able enough, or else those rolls would be filled by the Fighter or at least an archetype, not warrant a whole new class. personally, I could trim a few other martials from the list of core classes with this logic too, but we’re not going to delve into that here.
all of this is why I, at one point, went as far as to write a remade fighter class with nearly 300 select-able class features, a revamped skill list, 6 skill points per level, and a select-able class feature every level, all in addition to the “more feats” idea that defined the fighter since d20 rolled out 20 years ago. is it balanced? hell no, its not even complete and playtested. but every one of my players loves that content, and it has made staunch “I only play casters” players rethink their stance. there are abilities for nearly anything you could imagine a fighter doing, from the old staples of “being really good at hitting stuff with a stick” all the way up to “being excellent at coordinating his party to take down monsters he identifies with a knowledge check.” today, I play thing a lot simpler, but the idea behind it, and behind things like The Tome of Battle or Path of War, was to grant fighters new abilities that also gave them greater customization, deeper choices, and more (viable) options. I don’t think the fighter NEEDS spells or an equivalent mechanic to be relevant, fun, or balanced with the casters in the party, but I’m not going to rule it out as an option (there was an ability tree for Bo9S content in my rewrite after all.) what IS important to me though, is that the old idea that the fighter is “the guy with the stick” dies, because its long overdue. just because he deals with things in a personal and martial manner doesn’t mean he can’t be supernaturally powerful and do great things beyond the pale of what mortals would even deep possible. it just means he does it with a sword in his hand instead of a wand, or scroll, or holy symbol, or lute.
anyway, I realize i haven’t said anything that hasn’t been said before, and I spent a long time saying it, but I think, if you want to address the issues of the fighter, it will either take a much more in depth tinkering of the system to correct inherent flaws there, especially with the half-baked magic system bolted on to the side like an ill-fitting sidecar, than just slapping some extra skill points and abilities on the fighter… however, that’s a good enough stopgap to make the game run fine and players to have fun with, so that’s exactly what I and many other GMs have done, in as many ways as there are games with fighters in them. its nice though, to realize so many are like-minded, in some capacity at least, as myself on the subject.
The Primary problems with fighters can be summed up as
1) too few skills and out of combat options
2) To be good at anything requires hyperspecialization. There should be a lower barrier of entry to combat maneuvers and combat maneuver feats should make the maneuver better instead of granting a bonus to using the maneuver in question. Being able to bull rush/drag/trip/disarm when the situation calls for it would kake fighting more interesting. As is, if you’re a trip build….youre gonna trip in every situation which isn’t super satisfying.
I think I can see a few options.
1 more skills: 4 or 5 I feel would help this class alot.
2 Class specific options: Get rid of the feats every level, and instead give them options. Most every Archetype dose this regardless. But I’d rather they had options that are different from the other classes.
3 Kill iterative attacks: Give them the Vital strike like abilities. (Honestly I think this should be standard, and extra attacks the feat chain)
Just my 2 cp
I can’t see anything in this post I disagree with, and I once rebutted the statement “the sky is blue” (it was cloudy that day…).
Would you be willing to share your fighter revamp? I’m working on one myself and would love to see some more inspiration.