Pathfinder read-through – Chapter 3: Classes (Barbarian through Monk)

A retroactive introduction: After an actual-play hiatus where I was mostly writing and playtesting for GURPS. I was invited to play in a Pathfinder game, and after a few sessions, it was time to buy the book and learn the rules! I decided to try and read the Pathfinder Core Rulebook cover-to-cover and see what inspiration strikes, for good or ill!

This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races


3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!

With that in mind, let’s get it on!

The chapter starts with some brief and very, very important information. That the rate of advancement is up to the GM, and that you get one Feat at 1st level, and another every other level, regardless of class. You also get +1 to the ability score of your choice every four levels. Note that your ability score bonus is the difference between your score and 10, divided by two, and rounded towards zero. So that first +1 is most useful taking any odd score (which you should avoid if you can; as far as I can tell – they may be pointless) that you got stuck with and moving it to an even one. What that means is that if you spent time optimizing your character for start-of-play bonuses, you’ll get your first increase in ability-score bonuses every eight levels, which may drive you in search of mystical quests to raise them magically long before you hit that point!

One important point that has come up more than once as I read: When studying a rule, class, race, or power, it is very important to read the entire section that you’re in, and to do so with deliberation and care. While sometimes, such as in the description of the Monk’s AC bonus, the info is effectively repeated twice, in other cases, crucial info is dropped on you and you had better have caught it the first time. That’s a warning, not a complaint. A 500+ page rulebook has to be spare with words to not grow into a 750+ page rulebook. Still: read closely.

It also gives a brief rundown of multiclassing, where you can follow more than one class progression sequentially. I don’t see any game-rule reason other than efficiency that you can’t jack-of-all-trades it and do all eleven classes. Well, that and it’s almost certainly dumb. Some of the classes have rules like what armor and weapons can be used that will preclude another class from being effective. If you’re a Monk and get slammed if you put on armor, and also try and be a Fighter where you want full plate and a tower shield, well, if the cognitive dissonance doesn’t kill you, a party of goblinoids probably will, and your GM probably should.

Finally, it introduces the concept of the favored class, which does put the brakes on how good you really can get while multiclassing, You get a game-mechanical bonus every time you gain a level in a favored class (half-elves can start with two): either +1 HP or +1 skill rank.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow on each class. Well, I am, but I’m going to try and get to some high-level themes instead of “well, in my expert opinion, having Played Pathfinder for all of five to ten sessions and only having read the rules this one time, you should . . . ” 

’cause that wouldn’t make any sense. The entire point of this read-through is I’m new at this, with only the Core Rulebook in front of me. 

(Now in shiny hardback, too. There’s something visceral and nice about having actual books. I love me my eBooks and PDFs . . . don’t get me wrong . . . but given a choice, I’ll often get both)

Instead, I’m going to pick at some things I noticed on reading the classes a few times, and with that, I’ll start with some definitions:


Hit Die (HP at 10th Level):
You get the full HP at 1st level, and then I assume the average roll on your particular die for nine more levels. This can go up if you have a CON bonus, since that bonus applies to every hit die roll. Since Pathfinder HP are basically an ablative form of life, more is definitely better. 


Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills):
How many ranks you get per level, and the number of class skills associated with that character.


Skill-Ability Breakdown:
How many of those class skills receive their bonus from each ability. Will help you think of where to put your ability bonuses at character start.


BAB Total (10/20):
The maximum BAB you will add on achieving 10th and 20th level. As this number is added to both melee and ranged combat, it’s a good proxy for how good you are in conventional combat. Lower bonuses mean if you’re looking to deal smackdown, it’s not going to be swinging swords or shooting bows in a stand-up fight.


Save Total:
The sum of your eventual bonuses at 10th and 20th level to your Willpower, Fortitude, and Reflex saving throws. Basically, the higher this is, the more consequences of certain stuff you can avoid, like traps and spells.

Feats, spells, and talents I’ll leave to the descriptors, though they can be a major focus (or the major focus) of a character.

Barbarian

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d12 (71 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 4 (10 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (2); DEX (2); CON(0); INT (2); WIS (2); CHA(2).
BAB Total (10/20): +10/+20 (extra attack every 5 levels past first)
Save Total: ( 13/24 )

Barbarians are the Pathfinder equivalent of Mister Furious, who ‘gets his power from his boundless rage.’ But more like him at the end of the movie, where his stuff actually works. They have a long list of “rage powers,” from adding a bite attack to night vision to getting a boost to lost HP through Renewed Vigor. The downside here is that they can’t use skills that require finesse: no DEX, INT, or CHA skills while raging. Pretty sure, though, that attacking is not a skill, so feathering people with arrows, should one choose to do so, is not precluded. Though it’s hard to really imagine what an incredibly angry archer would look like. Not as terrifying as the slavering NFL shoo-in swinging a big axe at your head.

The upshot here is that, by and large, you’re going to be up close and personal, dealing out the hurt with simple and martial weapons, protected by up to medium armor and using shields. Front-line melee types.

You have a fairly limited skill set available, but given the Barbarian’s proclivities for getting in people’s faces and staving them in with a maul, STR and CON seem obvious choices, since the HP bonus for a high CON hits every level, but the DEX bonus to AC occurs but once. 

Bard

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d8 (49 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 6 (19 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (1); DEX (4); CON(0); INT (5); WIS (3); CHA(6).
BAB Total (+7/+15): +7/+15(extra attack every 5 levels past first)
Save Total: ( 17/30)

Bards overlap a bit with Rogues in some ways, though they lack Disable Device. They have some pretty cool abilities with the bardic performance schtick – even at low level, the Inspire Courage bardsong (+1 to hit and damage) is a major help, since the +1 damage can be a significant boost to low-level attack results. They can also cast some spells. A quick scan shows that most of the spells and songs are driven by the Bard’s CHA modifier, so between the skill list and the powers, CHA is your go-to ability for a bard. No surprise there, really. We’ve got a bard and a bard-alchemist in our party, and both are really nice to have around. Some of the spells look cool, like what must be the medieval equivalent of the power chord with a magical amplifier (Sonic Blast).

Cleric

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d8 (49 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 2 (13 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (0); DEX (0); CON(0); INT (9); WIS (3); CHA(1).
BAB Total (+7/+15): +7/+15(extra attack every 5 levels past first)
Save Total: ( 17/30)

Wow. You’ve got 13 skills, but you’ll suck at all of them. On the flip side, with nearly all of them concentrated in INT, you can focus a pretty major bonus here to good effect. Let’s see . . . the channel energy thing is either a smackdown or healing buff, this one driven by CHA. The maximum level of your spellcasting, however, is driven by WIS, and so is the Difficulty Class of resisting those spells. Cleric spells go to 9th level, and you need WIS 19 to cast a 9th level spell. You’ll have +4 to some attributes by the time you can cast even one 9th level spell, and if you focus that on WIS, you’ll still want to start (or end) with WIS 15. Or higher. So three key stats: WIS, CHA, and INT, if you like those skills.

I’ve not played in a game with a Cleric yet. I do remember the old days of D&D where 1st level Clerics had the “Hit him with my mace” option . . . and that was it. Not so now, with 0 and 1st level spells and channel energy at 1st level. Fairly credible combatants if their deity allows it, too, though not feat-centric like fighers. The Domain powers, of which you get to pick two, are pretty interesting, and the domain spells bear a close look. The domains are tied to the Gods, which are tied to Golarian – another nice advantage of having a vibrant and detailed world.

This is, in a way, where things kind of make my head swim. Each spell or power or feat is a very technical special case. The good news is, they come on slowly, level by level. Still, one could easily see a set of index cards or something to keep track of each bit, one per ability.

Druid

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d8 (49 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 4 (13 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (2); DEX (2); CON(0); INT (4); WIS (4); CHA(1).
BAB Total (10/20): +7/+15(extra attack every 5 levels past first)
Save Total: ( 17/30)

Velociraptor animal companion. I’d say “’nuff said” but that’s the wrong genre,and I do have more to say.

Alas.

Because really, once you get to “velociraptor” (and the One Velociraptor per Child program. No shit. Really.) everything else is bound to be anticlimactic. Kudos, also, for identifying the Deinonychus, the  V-raptor’s bigger, badder, Hollywood-star cousin.

These guys can probably do the hand-to-hand with weapons thing, but their mission in life seems to be to turn into an animal (fear the DIRE KIWI). Jokes aside, this is any animal of the appropriate size type, and the possibilities for infiltration here are legion even without turning into something fierce. 

They also get spells, up to four per level per day, with nine spell levels available.

But really: Velociraptor. With a single attack that grows more badass as the Druid gains levels, more Feats than some PCs, good saving throws and AC that, if I read it right, can hit 26, this is really why you want a druid along. As long as the wee beasty doesn’t get hungry and eat your party Halfling. I mean, Velociraptors ate Sam “BMF” Jackson; they’d have no issue with Merry or Pippin.

Fighter

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d10 (60HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 2 (10 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (2); DEX (1); CON(0); INT (3); WIS (2); CHA(2).
BAB Total (10/20): +10/+20(extra attack every 5 levels past first)
Save Total: ( 13/24)

Heavy armor, tower shields, and abilities that make them less hindering than for most. Focused weapon training. But basically, this guy is Feat Man, and by 20th level, he’ll have 20 of them. Presumably, though I won’t get there ’till Chapter 5, these are badass. 

This guy is going to be decked out in the best armor you can get, and will take his weapon – or weapons – of choice and render unto you like a Cuisinart. The low number of skill levels  means that you’ll largely be fishing for the +3 you get when you put your first rank in something, but really, noncombat stuff just Isn’t Your Thing. Why aren’t you boosting your STR and CON and skewering something right now? 

“Why read words when you can just kill the stuff the words tell you stuff about?” 

                                                                     – Snotlout, How to Train Your Dragon

Yeah, that’s exactly right. Where’d I put my longsword?

Monk

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d8 (49 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 4 (14 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (2); DEX (4); CON(0); INT (3); WIS (3); CHA(2).
BAB Total (10/20): +7/+15(extra attack every 5 levels past first; nearly-indecipherable flurry of blows if unarmed)
Save Total: (21/36)

First, a drive-by: WIS is super-important. It drives your AC bonus and later accumulation of ki points, which put Monk abilities into overdrive when spending them. The AC bonus is driven by your WIS level, and with proper point investment you can start off with an unarmored AC bonus similar to that of a chain shirt, and at high levels, it can hit levels only matched by full plate and a shield. So this is pretty cool stuff.

The flurry of blows comment above? It took me three days to understand how it worked. Largely due to lack of attention to detail, and a bit of Do It Yourself requirements and interpretation. Let me break it down. Your flurry of blows BAB is equal to your Monk’s level, less penalties for Two-Weapon Fighting. Now, those penalties are normally -6 for the good hand, and -10 for the bad one. But Monks don’t have an off hand fighting unarmed. So you really only have to worry about the -6. Two-Weapon Fighting drops the -6 by 2 for big weapons, by 4 for light weapons, and unarmed strikes count as light. Therefore, each attack is at -2. When you get to 8th level, you get two more at -5 beyond that, and at 15th level two more still at -10. 

I think, though, what happens is that you get these paired attacks (one pair at 1st level, two pair at 8th level, three pair at 15th level) . . . and if your BAB is still high enough when you’re done with that, you get one last attack at -5 past that. This explains, I think, why at 7th level, with only the pair of attacks you get from Two-Weapon Fighting (two attacks at -2, with a BAB of +7, equal to your level), that leaves you with +5/+5 . . . whereupon you then apply the usual Pathfinder rule that if you can subtract 5 from your BAB and get zero or more, swing away.  

That is a funky-weird way of interpreting the rule, to my mind. I would have thought that the natural two-fer you get with Two-Weapon, Improved Two-Weapon, and Greater Two-Weapon fighting was more than enough, and that this rule preempted the other. Oh well, at least I figured it out eventually, though I broke some brain cells doing it.

The Monk also does some nice Unarmed Damage here, equal to a shortsword or composite shortbow at 1d6 even at first level, and by 12th level, you’re into as much maximum damage unarmed as a greataxe. Not shabby.

There are a bunch of other powers and abilities the Monk throws down. You can stun targets, do nonlethal damage, reduced damage against special attacks if you make a saving throw – and note that saving throws are a Monk’s forte. 

(Thats FORT. Not For-TAY. One strong like bull, other loud like metal. Think “the forte of a blade,” pronounced ‘fort.’ And yes, it’s listed both ways in the dictionary, since incorrect things get assimilated all the time. Hrmph, I say. Pet peeve over.)

Along the way, the Monk gets more and more resistant to special attacks, from poison to spells to aging. Eventually he transcends into the magical spirit realm or something.

I still want a Velociraptor, though.

This is already a monster post. For my own sanity, I’m breaking it up into two parts. Paladins through Wizards will be covered in the next installment.

12 thoughts on “Pathfinder read-through – Chapter 3: Classes (Barbarian through Monk)

  1. I may not be proficient in Pathfinder, but I played a lot of 3.x before coming to GURPS, and I will just say this: beware of emergent qualities. Some classes sound awesome on paper, but in the end, don't deliver, as they have a myriad of funky things that go in all directions at once, while other classes don't sound as cool but every little bit helps every other little bit.

    You should revisit this after finishing the book.

  2. As someone who is passingly proficient in Pathfinder, one of the things you may like to notice is that there are three BAB progressions: One equal to level, one pegged to two-thirds level, and one equal to half-level. This is a very important indicator, because it is very strongly tied to how often you will hit in combat. Obviously wizards are bad at combat and fighters are good at combat; however, the interesting cases are the classes with the secondary BAB progression. Watch what classes purport to be good for dealing damage, but have a two-thirds BAB progression.

    1. Yes! You just anticipated part of my summary, where I was going to note exactly that point. The classes where BAB is equal to level, and maybe Monk, where it's sorta equal to level, but not quite, but with six or seven attacks at 20th level, are your front line smackdown artists.

  3. Though it's hard to really imagine what an incredibly angry archer would look like.

    Maybe like this guy:

    ". . . and like a rain of death among them fell the arrows of the Cimmerian, driven with all the force and accuracy of steely thews backed by a hate hot as the slag heaps of Hell.
    In his berserk fury he did not miss; the air was filled with feathered destruction."
    – R.E.Howard, "Queen of the Black Coast"

    It's a shame all Berserk archers get in GURPS is a +1 to hit.

  4. As far as I can tell from the Pathfinder SRD, ability score bonuses are rounded toward zero, not away from it. Rounding away from zero would give you a bonus of +1 with a score of 11, and further plusses at odd values.

  5. Having played several incredibly angry archers I can say that what they look like is crazy people screaming at probably sane people who don't want to come into the range of the crazy people. Cowards!

    Barbarians can use Medium armor and Shields but should probably avoid both. Medium armor takes back the 10' bonus to Move that Barbarians get in light armor and in very tactical minis games such a bonus is huge. moving your little man around the board to the right palces is a really big deal. Even more so for Rogues but important for everyone.

    You don;t want a shield because you do want a 2-handed weapon. Soem would say you wanted 2 weapon attack but the way I do the math that doesn't really work out to your advantage as often as most people seem to think.

    Anyway, your bonus to damage is x 1.5 with a 2-hander and that's on top of the higher base damage. So let's say that you rolled a 16 which you put at ST and added a +2 Racial Bonus fr an 18. At 1st level you're giving up +1 to AC which is no doubt important but you're trading in a 1D8 Longsword with a maybe a +4 if normal and a +6 if Raging for a D12 Greataxe or 2D6 Greatsword with a +6 to +9 bonus.

    50% more damage on every hit is generally worth a pt of AC. Besides huge amounts of damage are just naturally kewl.

    Fighters can make better use of both Shields and Armor. For one thing they can specialize in Shields with their FEATs and improve the AC.

    Clerics want Wis and CHA with then eiother Con or ST with DX and then Int far behind. CHA controls how many times per gay you can Channel and how ell you can use the Selective Channelling FEAT.

    This last bit has been important for my current group. Channelling is the main way I heal and I can do it in combat. Selective Channelling lets you exclude up to CHA bonus people (like enemies) from your area effect healing. "May the Holy Light of the Lady of the Stars Shine Upon All!. Except You and You.". Standing in back and giving 1D6 to your frontline fighters every Turn can be very important. There was no real question about my S&S Cleric taking Extra Channel for his 3rd level Feat.

    Channelling also allows the Cleric to use his spells for things beside healing and the Cleric frequently ends up as the group's utility spellcaster. At leas the next day after he gets to memorize the particular spell he needs. Downside is the Cleric's huge spelllist.

    I've never played a Bard or a Monk bit I can tell you to watch out for the Bard's unique Spells. His list is small but has many effects that no other class can provide.

    The Monk is a good "5th man"for any group after they've covered the basics. He's good in melee, has lots of Skills and is never at a disadvantage in those situations where you can't carry all your gear.

  6. I believe you may have misunderstood the multiclassing rules. You can infinitely multiclass, but all the levels do not progress simultaneously. Each level you gain, you pick a class to gain the level. If it is one you already have levels in, you increase it by one, otherwise hou start at level one. So while your friend gets xp to be a levell three cleric you can either be a level three barbarian, or a level one barbarian plus a level one fighter plus a level one rogue.

    1. I wonder if I was too glib in how I described it. I said you can do them "sequentially," and by that I was trying to differentiate from "simultaneously," as in "you assign your XP to a class – any class – and when you pass the XP threshold for that class you level up.

      I understand multiclassing to work exactly as you describe. My description, however, may not have been clear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *