Pathfinder read-through – Chapter 3: Classes (Paladin through Wizard)

This is a continuation of my read-through of Chapter 3. Eleven base classes means a crazy-long entry; I broke it up.



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 rules 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!

So: we continue!


Paladin

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d10 (60 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 2 (10 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (0); DEX (1); CON(0); INT (4); WIS (3); CHA(2).
BAB Total (10/20): +10/+20 (extra attack every 5 levels past first)
Save Total: (+17/+30)

Everyone loved to hate on Paladins back in my day. Well, it’s still my day, but they did get trash-talked a lot. Goody two-shoes holy roller, God-Botherer, etc. I always thought that the stalwart protector of Good was a great character concept. Then I read Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion, which I really, really enjoyed, and saw what fun a Paladin played right could be. I play one now (technically a Warrior Saint of Pharasma), in a Pathfinder-based GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Campaign.

Wow, that was a lot of links.

Paladins get the same choices of weapons as Fighters, less tower shields, which seem to be a specialty item. Right away, Paladins pick up the ability to detect evil . . . and be detected as Good. The Smite ability allows some serious bonus-stacking, based on CHA and level. Plus nifty AC bonuses against the smitten (smote? smacked-down? smited?) foe.

Note that the Paladin’s smite evil ability and the Dungeon Fantasy Learned Prayer called Smite, and it’s bigger, much badder cousin, Smite (Enhanced) from the exceptionally awesome book GURPS Powers: Divine Favor are cousins in terms of badassery.

As she levels up, the options for smiting become pretty varied, sometimes transferable, and  you get access to a limited number of spells, plus some cool healing powers. The Paladin powers aren’t as universal as Feats (again, the Fighter’s niche), but boy in their element they seem pretty rockin’. If you want the maximum spell level possible (level 4), you’ll want at least CHA 14 – in practice, more than that since many of a Paladin’s abilities are keyed off of CHA.

A Paladin is a living embodiment of doing good through personal risk, putting flesh and faith between evil and those whom evil would seek to harm. They are a God’s will made manifest, and those who fight near them are inspired and enabled by their presence. 

Quibble: you have to be mighty close – within 10 feet – to benefit from some of these nifty features. In GURPS that would be three hexes to the left or right, in a battle line, which is quite reasonable if the PCs can get their shit together and form a line of battle. I’m not sure how many Pathfinder tokens fit in a 10×10 square, normally. Presumably this will be explained in the Combat chapter.

I make no bones about loving the Paladin archetype. It’s a bias of mine, but I have a ton of fun with this class, even (or perhaps more so) when I play in classless systems like GURPS.


I don’t know much about Prestige Classes yet. It almost seems as if Paladin would make a natural one – and indeed, checking the net finds the Holy Vindicator, where a fighter/cleric or cleric can pick up some paladin-like abilities without actually being one. Hrm.

Ranger

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d10 (60 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 6 (15 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (2); DEX (2); CON(0); INT (5); WIS (4); CHA(2).
BAB Total (10/20): +10/+20 (extra attack every 5 levels past first)
Save Total: (+17/+30)

Along with the Barbarian, Fighter, and Paladin, Rangers are front-line types in essence, with BAB equal to their level. They use up to medium armor and shields (without tower shields) like the barbarian, and use simple and martial weapons. 

The Ranger’s first schtick is the ‘favored enemy.’ One or more types of critters that they get bonuses to identify, know stuff about, track, and (of course) kill.

They must also specialize in either archery, making them a stand-off expert, or two-weapon fighting, which can put them on the front line (but watch for that lower armor and no shield thing). This increments every four levels; you must choose your path on hitting 2nd level – that is, almost immediately.

Like their namesake Strider from The Lord of the Rings, Rangers are long-walkers and far-trekkers. Their bonus feats are mostly based on movement, and that includes endurance, moving quickly through obstructed terrain, evasion, and survival. They also pick up spells that feel pretty Druidic in nature, which is appropriate to the archetype.

I remember from my old AD&D days that rangers were one of my favorite classes. Good fighting, with a smattering of cool abilities that made you a bit of a fighter-cleric or (later) fighter-druid. This still seems true. They can fight, but will have lower AC than others (it’s still weird to say that, since I’m old enough to remember when low AC was a good thing; I dimly recall that plate mail and DEX 18 was an AC of -2, perhaps?). They will do well hunting and killing from a distance, and can cast spells and gain abilities to do this over long marches and with some degree of surprise. They seem to also, at higher levels, potentially make pretty good back-up healers.

Rogue

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d8 (49 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 8 (21 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (2); DEX (5); CON(0); INT (5); WIS (3); CHA(6).
BAB Total (10/20): +7/+15 (extra attack every 7-8 levels past first)
Save Total: (+17/+30)

Sneak Attack and mondo levels of skill. Oh, sure the Rogue Talents can be cool, but with a decent INT score you are going to be putting +1 in half your skill list every level – and depending on what kind of Rogue you want to be, that won’t bother you. If you’re a Traps and Stealth rogue, you can cover that and more. If you’re a Merchant rogue, no problem. You might not even have to choose. With the right racial and feat bonuses (+2 Per, +1-3 for ability scores, and Skill Focus) my 4th level piratey rogue has Stealth +12, Perception +11, and a bunch more in the +6 to +9 range. And that’s AFTER I fixed the problem I had giving more ranks than hit dice (oops).

The sneak attack thing is pretty nice too, since you basically get +1d6 every two levels to damage, an average of just under 2 points of damage per level . . . if you can flank your foe, which you should always try and do anyway.

You’re going to want to avoid direct combat, since you’re restricted to light armor, no shields. I have gotten far more mileage out of a composite shortbow than any amount of Dagger Fu. That being said, some of the other simple weapons, such as the heavy mace, do a bit more damage than my rapier, and the long spear is a reach weapon with 1d8 and a x3 critical. A heavy crossbow is pretty nasty too, but only every other round capable. 

I might really need to look into using a long spear. 

Sorcerer

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d6 (38 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 2 (9 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (0); DEX (1); CON(0); INT (4); WIS (1); CHA(3).
BAB Total (10/20): +5/+10 (extra attack at 12th level)
Save Total: (+13/+24)

These guys can’t take a hit, don’t have very good saving throws, and have very few skills. 

This bodes well for what they are good at, I presume. It better.

Sorcerers are new to me, since they’re not even close to anything from the D&D games I used to play. They can cast spells because they are inherently magical, rather than through study. You have to choose a background, called a bloodline, that defines from whence your magical gift flows.

Some of these are pretty horrid. At high level, an Aberrant gains misshapen and deformed physiology. Abyssal, Infernal, and Undead bloodlines do not end well. Well, unless you’re into that sort of thing. The book says any bloodline can be paired with any alignment, but that grates. “O Hai! I’m a Lawful Good sorcerer with an Abyssal bloodline! I have claws, can summon demons, and like long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days!” (Warning: that link is Not Safe For Work).

You get a few powers along the way. These seem to be a limited set of immunities, one or two ways to do damage (not trivial: Gold Draconic bloodline at 18th level can breathe fire in a 30′ cone twice per day for 18d6 damage), and often some sort of movement power.

The sorcerer can know a limited number of spells, but can cast up to 6 spells per day, plus your CHA bonus (interesting choice of Ability base, there). You may, however, only learn a certain number, and this is independent of ability scores. That being said, if you like Fireball and have CHA 18 for a +4 bonus, you can cast it ten times a day at 9th level. That will thus be the only 3rd level spell you cast that day, but you can sling a lot of fireballs.

Sorcerers and Wizards use the same spell list. Way back when, if you managed to live through the lower levels, you became a walking artillery piece, capable of rearranging whole battlefields; +Wil Wheaton makes exactly this point here. I have since lost my old AD&D books (maybe my mom tossed ’em; she never liked me roleplaying anyway – now that I occasionally get paid for it, she merely vacillates between neutral and unknowing. Improvement? Perhaps.) but let’s check out some 9th level Wizard/Sorcerer battle magic that you pick up at 18th level. I’ll presume level 18 and key stats, where they matter, of 20. Yes, that’s high, but since your max spell level is often 10+the spell level, you need ability scores of 19 or 20 to lay down proper fire and brimstone. So, 20 it is.

Crushing Hand and Meteor Swarm. Hey, Meteor Swarm . . . I like the sound of that. Range is over 1,000 feet, four impact zones of 80′ in diameter. 6d6 of pain fills the area, and you can hit a creature more than once. So up to 24d6 (24-144 per strike). The entity known as Treantmonk posted a guide to making Monks, and notes that with the right build, you can get up close and personal doing seven to nine hits per turn, each at maybe 2d10+20. Call that 16d10+160, and you’re looking at 176-320 damage per turn until you run out of ki. I suspect a dedicated Fighter build can do as well. Of course, you have to overcome your foe’s AC, where spells, I believe, are a save vs. the DC of about 24. 

Of course, the Sorcerer hits you at 1000′ away if he can. The Monk has to get a wee bit closer.

I’m out of my league comparing builds, but it would appear that the up-close-and-personal types can lay down some serious hurt.

In GURPS, the trick to running a spellcaster is often not to try to deal direct damage. You buff your friends – Great Haste is a perennial favorite – and do tricky stuff. The Tickle spell, for example, incapacitates your foe for a full minute – that’s 60 combat rounds – of hysterical laughter. Whereupon your fighter or some random barmaid can slit his throat.

Perhaps the Sorcerer/Wizard follows the same path; I will find out when I get to Chapter 10!

Wizard

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d6 (38 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 2 (7 skills – but one is “any” Knowledge skill)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (0); DEX (1); CON(0); INT (5); WIS (1); CHA(0).
BAB Total (10/20): +5/+10 (extra attack at 12th level)
Save Total: (+13/+24)

The wizard is the book-larnin’ relative of the Sorcerer. Familiars, the power item, and the spellbook are all present, which satisfies my sense of nostalgia. The key stat, as you might imagine, is INT. As high as possible. CON probably couldn’t hurt; you’ll need the HP.

No armor, no shieids. You can probably, and should probably, look for magic robes to give some sort of armor bonus, but really, just stand back and fling arcane energy from a distance.

No doubt someone can come up with an up-close-and-personal Wizard build. To that I say: Cool! Bring it on, post comments. Lemmee see it.

One thing that’s interesting about Wizards is they do get an unlimited number of castings of 0-level spells called cantrips. Up to four can be prepared per day, but cast unlimited times. Some of these are fairly cool: mending looks useful, as does a spell that can create torchlight.

Note that it says prepare, since unlike sorcerers, wizards can know as many spells as you like, but you can only prepare a certain number per day, and once your slot is expended, it’s gone for that day. That being said, if you want to fling three fireballs in one day, booyah – but it’s going to cost you three slots.

The wizard’s familiar seems a bit of a big deal. It grants abilities, and can be used to extend the wizard’s power and reach. It can also attack and fight – but really, if you want that, look at Druids, I think.

Each wizard gets to choose whether to be a Universalist (no specialties) or a focused mage, in which you pick a particular school and get goodies pertaining to it: an extra spell slot per level you can cast, and a short list of bonuses or pseudo-spells. But (there’s always a but) you also have to pick two opposed schools at which you suck, and casting spells from those schools is done at 2 slots per 1 spell. Yowch.

***

And that’s it! I’m not sure if the classes are balanced or not as they go up in levels. I’ll rely on others to tell me (though looking at vitriolic threads on RPG.net about such things, perhaps ignorance is bliss). 

Next up for Pathfinder: Skills and Feats (Chapters 4-5), which I will probably tackle separately.

9 thoughts on “Pathfinder read-through – Chapter 3: Classes (Paladin through Wizard)

  1. I sincerely hope that someone does make a melee wizard for Pathfinder. It was my favorite thing to do in D&D 4E (along with a really remarkably effective Paladin/Warlock hybrid that was book legal but really was terrifically overpowered)

    It's another reason I tend to prefer GURPS and other classless systems that allow me to indulge my perverse need to combine archetypes.

    1. Yeah, I've read through the Magus, and something about it doesn't quite work for me. Probably because it was designed from the ground up to combine magic and fighting, and includes powers that empower weapons or allow spells to be cast through them, that sort of thing.

      And then again, it might be the fact that it's no longer subverting the system, but an approved, sanitized version of the warrior-mage. There's no perversity in having a long sword on your hip if you're some sort of magical badass with it!

  2. As a note, the Sorcerer was a nice edition in 3rd Edition. This biggest challenge to a Wizard was always the fact that you always ran out of spells all the time in classic DnD style games. 3 rooms into a dungeon and you are worthless. The Sorcerer fixed that. They have limited spells, but you can cast them more frequently. Wizards are better for variety and work better in RP style campaigns where they can use spells in more creative ways.

  3. In my games, we treat low level wizards as sort of "mission specialists" – they are there to decipher writings, identify magic (since Detect Magic is a cantrip in Pathfinder), help with puzzles, etc. Not to participate in combats, unless those are particularly nasty foes or an opportunity presents itself. A good example might be ray-of-frost to kill some brown mold or to finish off a nearly dead opponent. Of course at higher levels, it's all lightning bolts and fireballs. 😉

    1. Very interesting approach!

      What about multiclassing? I suppose one needs too many good ability scores to make this viable, but maybe you do one class to survive low level work, and then focus on the spellcasting?

      My gut tells me this is a bad idea, but my gut is unreliable where pathfinder is concerned.

    2. That does a really nice job of giving the Wizard a reason to hang back and fire his crossbow when opportunity presents itself, instead of having to rely on it because he's all out of magic. "I'm not some sort of artillery piece, you know. I'm into knowledge…"

  4. As I said in G+, one thing to look for, is MAD (Multiple Attribute Dependency). If a class is expected to have more than 2 high scores, that's a problem. In fact, two high and a moderate one is also a problem. To look for it, check what attribute is keyed to each of the class abilities (hitting is considered to be a class ability for this, so that means Str for melee, and Dex for ranged attackers and people with Weapon Finesse, and Con is also a class ability for anyone who is expected to be in melee range – and for ranged attackers, wizards, anyone else, etc too, really).

    At high levels, the game assumes you munchkin out, so the character is expected to have, at levl 20, at least 30 in their core attributes (out of a theoretical maximum, without anything strange, of 36: 18 base stant, +2 from the racial bonus, +5 for a manual of X, +5 for level ups, and +6 from a stat bonus item). Otherwise, the monster will hit you on a 2+, you will only hit it on a 20, and it will make it's saving rolls on a 2+. That's the nature of the beast. This means that at least in 3.0 and 3.5, being MAD was a HUGE disadvantage at higher levels, unless you happened to roll 3 18s, and then again, you would still need multiple manuals of X, and waste magic item slots in stat boosting items for all stats. Oh, and you only get your racial bonuses and your level up bonuses once.

    Paladins (Str, Con, Cha, Wis, though it seems that they dropped Wis in PF, as it used to be necessary for paladin spells, and you said that paladin spells key off Cha. Since that leaves Int and Dex as dump stats, paladins used to be called "Clumpsy idiots") and Monks (Wis, Dex, Con, Str, meaning that monks are called "antisocial idiots") have been cursed with MADness since forever (though maybe PF helps here), while other classe such as clerics, wizards, sorcerers, druids, rogues, warriors, etc are blessed with SADness.

  5. We've been kind of short on Sorcerors in my Pathfinder experience.. In 3.5 it was actually one of the best classes for newbies sicne you got only 2 spells but could cast them a lot. simple tactical choices. Pathfinser has complicated the Sorceror.

    Familiars might sound cool for the Wizard but in Pathfinder it's the Familiar _or_ the bonded Item and all the Wizards I've seen and/or played have chosen the bonded item. My 3.x Wizards who had a Familiar whether they wanted one or not tended to end up with Rat or Weasel Familiars because you could keep them in your pockets and passively collect the bonuses.

    On a similar note, for Paladins it's Magic Sword(Spirit) _or_ Magic Horse but not both.

    Also, especvially for Adventure Paths you need to ask your GM is the AP is Paladin-compatible. I've seen few that were. I had a Paladin in the old 3.5 Age of Wyrms and the mid-to high level part where we had to infiltrate the Evil City and play party games at the Evil Prince';s birthday party were _really_ uncomfortable..

    For our last AP (Second Darkness) it was just as well that all of the core group of the party chose True Neutral./ It was really convenient when we had to infiltrate the Drow City in disguise.

    Our Skull&Shackles group is also Neutral heavy of course. We're starting Carrion Crown soon and somebody has made up a Paladin for that..

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